Monday, January 30, 2023

Electoral alliances and political match-fixing

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Political match-fixing

Similar to match-fixing problems in the game of sports, a new form of electoral corruption is being institutionalized in Nepal. It goes by the name of electoral alliance. This is a pre-fixed or an advance agreement between political parties to form alliances whereby the alliance members share electoral constituencies, deciding on which party to contest where and whom to support, before going to the polls. It is a strategic move to defeat political opponents and gain electoral victory. This is very much close to match fixing. Match-fixing is a criminal activity but political match-fixing is not.

Electoral alliances were formed in 2017 elections. However, it was not that intense like the one we observed in 2022 elections. In 2017, the alliance of two big communist parties, namely, CPN (UML) and CPN (Maoist Centre) shared the booty (Refer to Table 1). This must have taught Nepali Congress a lesson or two to follow the suit. However, the formation of electoral alliances is rooted into the culture of consensus that got implanted during more than a decade long transition period (2006-2017). In principle the culture of consensus was defined as participatory, inclusive, consensual decision making process but, in practice, it was meant for sharing of spoils, bhaagbanda, on a turn by turn rotational, aalo-paalo basis.

Remember how All Party Mechanism (APM) corrupted local governance system and the anti-graft body, CIAA had to quash them all. Due to mixed electoral system (60 percent FPTP and 40 percent PR) and demographic diversity, it is near impossible for any political party to garner simple majority, hence political parties are also forced to enter into an electoral alliance. Therefore formation of electoral alliances, making and breaking up of coalition governments, party splits, divisions, defections, horse trading and buying and selling of MPs will continue to feature in Nepali politics. In sum political instability will the core of Nepali politics.     

Table 1: FPTP Seats and PR seats, PR votes by Major Political Parties

Elections 2017 and 2022

 

 

2017 Elections

2022 Elections

SN

Political Party

FPTP seats

PR

votes

(mil)

PR

seats

Total

seats

FPTP

seats

PR

votes

(mil)

PR

seats

Total seats

 

Total

(165)

(9.54)

(110)

(275)

(165)

(10.40)

(110)

(275)

1

Nepali Congress

23

3.13

40

63**

57

2.66

32

89**

2

CPN

(UML)

80

3.17

41

121*

45

2.79

33

78*

3

CPN (Maoist)

36

1.37

17

53*

17

1.16

14

31**

4

RSP

NA

NA

NA

NA

7

1.12

14

21

5

RPP

NA

0.197

NA

NA**

7

0.59

7

14*

6

JSP

NA

NA

NA

NA

7

0.42

5

12*

7

JMP

NA

NA

NA

NA

1

0.39

5

6

8

CPN (US)

NA

NA

NA

NA

10

0.29

-

10**

9

NUP

NA

NA

NA

NA

3

0.27

-

3

10

LSP

NA

NA

NA

NA

4

0.17

-

4**

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: *Alliance 1 members, ** Alliance 2 members, NA: Not applicable. FPTP seats, PR votes and PR seats may require updating (as on 4 December).

Alliances: Gath-bandhan vs. thug-bandhan

In recently concluded federal and provincial elections, though 47 political parties were in the fray, broadly, the competition was between two alliances – ruling alliance, comprising of five political parties, namely, Nepali Congress Party, CPN (Maoist Centre), CPN (US), RJM and LSP; and opposition alliance headed by CPN (UML) with the support of smaller parties like RPP, RPP-Nepal, JSP and some others. Each of these two big gath-bandhans assumes their alliance to be genuine and others as fake or thug-bandhan (alliance of the thugs). Besides these two alliances, there were several new and smaller parties and individual contesting elections sans alliances.

Electoral alliance is a strategic move for electoral gains; however, it has backfired and some leaders are pondering whether they would have been better off without entering into alliances.

Out of a total of 165 electoral constituencies, the ruling alliance shared constituencies as follows: Nepali Congress Party in 91 constituencies, CPN (Maoist Centre) in 44 constituencies, CPN (United Socialist) in 21 constituencies and remaining constituencies were shared between two smaller political parties. In the opposition alliance, CPN (UML) shared a big chuck or 143 constituencies.

Definitely, electoral alliance is a strategic move for electoral gains; however, it has backfired and some leaders are pondering whether they would have been better off without entering into alliances. Others are complaining about betrayals and non-transfer of votes.  

Mockery of democracy

First and foremost impact of electoral alliance is squeezing political space for the voters. A voter is forced to vote for a candidate or even a political party that may or may not be his/her liking. As a show of displeasure, he/she can either refrain from voting or invalidate his/her vote. In the end, political match-fixing makes mockery out of democracy. It robs people and political parties of electoral completion and prevents capable and qualified candidate being elected. Peoples are turned into sheeples, their fate decided by arm chair politicians. Probably, as a protest against political match-fixing, voters are starting to voice for “right to reject” and “right to recall” in the electoral system. To be sure, electoral alliance is expected to produce voters’ dissatisfaction and frustration with the very electoral process.    

Absurd electoral outcomes

Second, electoral alliances have produced absurd political outcomes. For example, CPN (US) which has bagged 10 seats under direct elections but has hardly secured 300,000 PR votes, a threshold required to qualify as a national-level party. Compared to this, RSP which bagged just 7 FPTP seats has secured more than 1.1 million PR votes. Similar comparison can be made between two big parties like Nepali Congress and CPN (UML). Nepali Congress secured 55 FPTP seats with 2.7 million PR votes while CPN (UML) secured 44 FPTP seats with 2.8 million PR votes.

Similarly, the Maoist Party which secured 17 FPTP seats has secured only 1.2 million PR votes. Much of this discrepancy between FPTP wins and PR votes can be ascribed to electoral alliances than to a preference between party ideology and individual candidate. The alliance has forced voters to vote for a different candidate and a different political party. A large number of votes were invalidated during local/municipal elections in May. This is primarily due to alliances where voters were put into confusion or deliberately invalidated their votes.

Electoral alliance has helped political parties to win FPTP seats but it has come at the cost of PR votes.

Some alliance leaders are now expressing their displeasure over non-transfer of votes – particularly, from Nepali Congress Party supporters. Former PM Mr JN Khanal has openly accused betrayal by alliance members for his shameful defeat. Definitely, electoral alliance has helped political parties to win FPTP seats but it has come at the cost of PR votes. Analogous to casting of large fishing nets to catch more fishes, the filing of candidates in larger number of constituencies under FPTP system also helps to collect larger number of PR votes. This is clearly demonstrated by huge number of PR votes secured by NCP (UML) and RSP. RSP has filed its candidacy in 134 constituencies. Though its voters are primarily concentrated in urban areas, spreading of a large net helped it to collect PR votes from nooks and corners of the country.

Political parties have assumed that voters will do whatever expected of them. Many believe the rise of new political parties like RSP, Janamat Party and Nagarik Unmukti Party including considerable gains made by pro-Hindu, pro-monarchy party like RPP is due to dissatisfaction and frustration with the poor performance of three big political parties, including their electoral alliances.  

Marriage of convenience

Third, electoral alliances have turned out to be a marriage of convenience. This is demonstrated by coming together of two diametrically opposite political forces like Nepali Congress and communist parties or CPN (UML) and the pro-monarchist Hindu parties. The marriage of convenience cannot last long. Even when elections results show ruling alliance have an edge, debates are simmering over the formation of next government and who is to head that government. There is doubt that the ruling alliance may not last long. The Maoist party is already taking a flickering stand between joining hands with Nepali Congress or its arch rival CPN (UML). The party can easily switch sides with the dangling of carrot called “PM”.  

It is time to take stock of electoral system in Nepal, possibly banning the formation of political match-fixing, including clowns taking up positions in the Election Commission.

Time to question electoral alliances

Forming a coalition government is very much legitimate and desirable because it is an ex-post facto activity. However, electoral alliances are ex-ante in a sense that it is primarily designed to fix electoral outcomes in advance. It is against the principle of competitive democracy. It has produced electoral absurdities. Therefore, its relevance and legality needs to be questioned. In the elections, the alliance between CPN (UML) and RPP Nepal was exercised to such an absurd level that the President of RPP Nepal, Kamal Thapa contested elections using CPN (UML) electoral symbol. This is like legitimizing a married partner to sleep with someone else.

I suppose there must be a limit to such behavioural abnormalities. There are also other cases where candidates from different political parties used different electoral symbols – making a joke not just on the voters but also on the very electoral system. It is time to take stock of electoral system in Nepal, possibly banning the formation of political match-fixing, including clowns taking up positions in the Election Commission.

Published on 4 December 2022

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