Rethinking Election the Other Way


This article was published in The Rising Nepal National Daily under the title: “Making Electoral Process Frugal”, on 4th July 2024.

Rabindra Adhikary

Making Electoral Process Frugal Rabindra Adhikary
Snapshot of article in The Rising Nepal national English daily

When asked what the most beautiful aspect of democracy is, one would likely cite it to be the election. Transitioning from the era of tyrannical Rana regime to this freedom to vote in a republic, many politicians will sigh in comfort of their achievement. But quintessentially, the impoverished hoi polloi struggling to make their ends meet face similar kinds of livelihood challenges now as they did in the past. It should be sounding quite surprising that the process of election is itself serving as a palisade to stop the common people from coming to the leadership position in order to plan, decide and work for their own interests. Admittedly, there is arguably nothing more beautiful than an election as an epitome to democracy, manipulation of its dark side is really rotting away the hard-earned beauty of republicanism today and here is an alternative to minimize that rot.

First of all let us revisit the relevant chronology of an election process. As the election is announced or even before that, party cadres race to get tickets of candidacy from the party lynchpin. The purported basis of awarding a ticket is ideally the nonpareil contribution to the party but in today’s context, it is mysterious how the candidates are chosen by the top leaders. Of course, the potential candidate should be a long-time party devout, nevertheless, it is more necessary that he should have big-time money if he is in the junior rank of party hierarchy and there are an army of competitors in line for candidacy. It is loud and clear that there is money involved if a stranger makes a lateral entry into the party, much less gets a token for fighting in the election. Hence, as a party determines its candidate, it is not unlikely that the candidate has already spent hundreds of thousands of money that he ought to recoup later.

There is also an exorbitant cost on the part of the government when it comes to elections. Nepal government spent a total of 18 billion Nepalese rupees in 2017 for all three tiers of elections which allegedly reduced to a considerable 13 billion in 2022, all excluding the security and mobilization costs of police and army. For a small budget country like us, whose almost 40% of national budget is sourced from debts and grants, are not the expenses made in the elections too much of a financial burden to afford?

But we have a solution for that and the name of the solution is sortition, in which a random selection of one candidate is carried out from a pool of listed applicants. Someone may readily ridicule me when I propose sortition as a better alternative to voting, especially in this changing era when democracy is thought to be the best and common political practice worldwide wherein an elected candidate gets a chance to govern. We may well take a risk for more positive changes to wipe out many blemishes for one good thing, for sortition is by no means an inferior practice. Dating back to the 6th Century BC in Athens when political positions were filled by the lottery, sortition finds its applicability well even today in America’s court where jurors are selected randomly from a pool of qualified citizens. In many instances, democratic lottery is the well-practiced device to cut down corruption from the roots.

We can define the methodology for sortition in our own way. Election Commission (EC) can make definite eligibility criteria for a candidate and formally solicit the applications. The criteria can be different for people fighting for House of Representatives (HoRs) and for mayoral positions of a rural municipality. We can first skim applicants in four different aspects: education, experience, knowledge and situational tasks. The first two aspects can be judged by EC itself and the latter two aspects can be executed with the help of the Public Service Commission or by forming an independent body of experts under EC. For example, to be eligible for the candidate of HoRs, at least a bachelor degree of education and two years of formal work experience in the social sector would be mandated. The applicants who meet these criteria will be furthered to sit for a written examination to assess the general knowledge about current affairs, history, geography, laws and constitution according to a delineated syllabus. The last section would be an interview to check the intuition and readiness for certain kinds of unprecedented situations. The remaining candidates after crossing these stages are comparably competent for the post of HoRs from which we will have to sort out one lucky winner through a lottery. This nourishes public attitude to seek skills and knowledge instead of joining political clout as a full-time loyal follower.

The EC had promulgated that an election candidate for HoRs can spend NPR 2.5 to 3.3 million in the last two elections depending upon the electoral constituency they belong to. Is it not the official declaration of government that a gentleman with no money and connection can claim for the candidacy? Despite that, how many citizens file their candidacy in the same constituency? Many. Multiply 2.5 million by many and you get the money wasted in vain. Big party candidates flood money to the have-nots in electioneering far beyond the limit as they siphon funds from the haves. Thus, the candidate is under an added obligation of returning the money and favor to those who funded him before the poll. Sortition is such a frugal method that it completely exterminates the expenditure of the election not only of the competitors but also of the government. It, thus, proactively controls the socio-political hazards of inflation, national trade-deficits, corruption, cronyism and favoritism.

Additionally, there are particular traits of leaders we elect through public voting. They seem to be vociferous, narcissistic and constantly hungry for power. The leader now in power was a leader since childhood in school groups or play teams. This progressive development of exercising power since childhood has already corrupted the individual as he feels himself the ‘chosen one’ that the chance of authoritarian and ill-prepared decisions are highly probable. Whereas, the randomly selected person attributes his leadership solely to the luck and thus does not exude the pride that undermines the values of others. They also tend to listen to others before coming to the decision. These leaders are best fit for a thriving democracy like us like never before.

Therefore, to finally upend the tornado of ballot expenditure in each 5-year cycle, we can first start practicing sortition from a small social unit like school management committee, district coordination committee and after analyzing their repercussions we can adopt it to the mass election which will ensure a new face in the leadership arena. For those who contend that sortition deflowers one of the beauties of hard-earned democracy, we can at least propose this approach to by-elections and snap election as a litmus test.  

Post a Comment