Population and Constituencies: Missing Flip Side of the Coin

On face value the demand for representation based on actual population in each district, as raised by various terai groups including ruling coalition member Nepal Sadbhavana Party, sounds justified. But amidst the heat of a terai in flames the flip side of the coin is being completely missed, and even facts are being distorted.The issue of “under-representation” from the terai should be viewed from three angles:

By Ameet Dhakal
The Kathmandu Post

A. How severe is the case of “under-representation”, and more importantly, whether it is deliberate?
B. The practicality of redrawing the constituencies in proportion to the population
C. Brining a development dimension into the representation issue.

Population is the first criteria, as it should be, in the current demarcation of the constituencies. Representation is not exactly in proportion to the population in the terai districts, but the terai is also not unfairly under-represented. Based on 2001 census- which is the latest one – for every 112,933.77 population there should be one electoral constituency. Let’s us do a reality check in the eastern terai districts, where the agitation is currently concentrated. If constituencies were to be redrawn in proportion to the population, Siraha (where the current conflagration sparked) would have 5.06 constituencies, Saptari 5.02, Sunsari 5.5, Sarlahi 5.6, Dhanusha 5.9 and Morang 7.4. Now let’s look at the number of the current constituencies in these districts. Siraha, Saptari, Sunsari, Sarlahi and Dhanusha have 5 constituencies each and Morang has 7 constituencies. How seriously underrepresented are these districts? Only by a fraction.

Is there a deliberate bias behind under-representing of ethnic Madhesis?

Currently, Kathmandu, Jhapa and Rupandehi are the three most under-represented districts. Based on population, Kathmandu should have 9.5 electoral constituencies and Jhapa and Rupendhei should have 6 each. But Kathmandu has only 7, Jhapa has 5 (after the deletion of one constituency this year) and Rupandehi also 5. Newars are the dominant ethnic group in Kathmandu, while Bahuns as a cast group are dominant in Jhapa and Rupandehi.

Now let’s see the representation issue from the practical point of view. If constituencies are redrawn in proportion to the populations, then five districts in the northern-western strip – Humla, Mugu, Dolpa, Mustang and Manag – will have only one electoral constituency since the total population of these five districts is just 138,645. How will a candidate, say from Manang, campaign in Humla? The total area of this single constituency would be 22,898 square kilometers. In terms of geographical size this constituency will be larger than the 14 terai districts (with 71 constituencies) spreading from Jhapa to Dang (i.e., Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Saptari, Siraha, Dhanusha, Mahottari, Sarlahi, Rautahat, Bara, Parsa, Nawalparasi, Rupandehi, Kapilvastu and Dang). These 14 districts together cover only 22,594 square kilometers. One can also compare the difficulty of campaigning in this mammoth constituency with electioneering in a constituency in the terai that a candidate can make two rounds of every day on a bicycle.

The problem with the current dispute on representation is, it’s being argued as if headcount alone matters and geography is irrelevant. But the American experience says otherwise. For instance, the state of California has a population of over 36 million while the tiny northern-eastern state of Vermont has a population of just 623,000. Yet both states send two senators each to the US Senate. The US is not necessarily the best model, and we don’t necessarily have to follow it. But there should be a fair balance between geography and population. That’s why after 1990 the constituencies were redrawn dismantling what used to be either one or two constituencies per district during the Panchaayat era.

Finally, let’s analyze the representation issue from a development perspective.

The argument for fair representation is that under-representation weakens the voice of a region which will have implications in policy formation and resource allocations.

If this argument is true, the representation of backward regions should be increased instead. In other words it makes little sense to increase the representation of districts with high Human Development Index (HDI) such as Kathamndu (HDI, 1), Rupandehi (HDI, 5), Jhapa (HDI, 18) and Kaski (HDI, 3) and reduce the representation of districts with low HDI such as Mugu (HDI, 75), Bajura (73), Kalikot (72), Bajhang (71) and Jajarkot (70).

By agreeing to increase the electoral constituencies in the terai districts in proportion to the rise in their population while keeping the number of constituencies in the hill districts unchanged, the government has tried to strike a balance. It should address the grievances of under-representation of the Madhesi population and also the representation needs of the sparsely populated hill districts.

Ameet Dhakal is the news editor of the Kathmandu Post.

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11 thoughts on “Population and Constituencies: Missing Flip Side of the Coin”

  1. Wagle et. al.,

    I still believe you can come back to the right side of reality. Because if the reality finds you on the wrong side of it, the Mobs (looking for justice this time) might crush you too. And if the mobs don’t do anything, we are there to do it non-violently. But the way we do it will be painful. Anyone, mark my words, anyone supporting terrorism in Nepal will get it back and bad – it would be.

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  2. And by the way, do you think any Nepali believes in Kantipur/Kathmandu post or anyone working with this criminal media organisation. It’s days are numbered and so might be yours. I ain’t saying this, the mobs are doing it – any party supporter goes up and burns Kantipur. The world isn’t wrong, Kantipur and you are.

    Stop these rhetoric articles because we ain’t gonna waste our pennies worth on these.

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  3. Wake up SPAM before it becomes more worst than you imagined. People and businesses are sufferring day by day, once the limit of the tolerance of the people will over the worst scenario will come….where you might have no control…

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  4. Mr. Dhakal
    The problem is with your understanding.
    No body is talking about reducing the representation in Mountains.
    If 20000 people in mountain make one MP then 20000 people in Terai should also
    elect one MP. That is the DEMOCRACY (everything based on VOTE).

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  5. Stick to the principles of DEMOCRACY. If SPAM cannot decide ask US, India & England to deliver the final decision. After all it they who “run” the Govt. of Nepal.

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  6. If its people like Ameet Dhakal who runs Kathmandu post as a news editor, we seriously have some problems in Nepal. Mr. Dhakal, the only thing missing is that like a typical bahun, you have no integrity and you are trying to mislead everyone with a false argument. Here is an example:

    “The problem with the current dispute on representation is, it’s being argued as if headcount alone matters and geography is irrelevant. But the American experience says otherwise. For instance, the state of California has a population of over 36 million while the tiny northern-eastern state of Vermont has a population of just 623,000. Yet both states send two senators each to the US Senate.”

    – how conveniently you forget to mention about the powerful house of representative, which is elected based on proportional representation. You need to get your facts straight and stop writing half truths to mislead everyone!

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  7. CONSTITUENCIES ACCORDING TO POPULATION

    It is better way that the way of selecting the consitituencies is by the population wise, because the population reflect the geographic location.
    The way of election reflection and peoples representitive is totally based on the no of people. They have the right and its obligation of the present Government to this at the present contiary.

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  8. The analogy to US system needs more elaboration. An informed writer should mention both sides: how the US balances the problem of disproportionately populated states like California and Vermont with bicameral system.

    The idea of the connecticut compromise is explained below:

    Article I of the Constitution establishes the legislative branch of the government which is the United States Congress. The Congress is a bicameral system which means it is made up of two chambers (or houses). One chamber is called the House of Representatives, and the other chamber is called the Senate.

    During the Constitutional Convention, delegates from large states wanted the population to determine the numbers of members of Congress, and delegates from small states wanted each state to have the same number of members.

    Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth (both from Connecticut), suggested an idea to balance the interests of the large and small states. The House of Representatives would be elected according to population. This pleased the large states because the large states would have more representatives. The Senate would be made up of two Senators from each state. This pleased the small states because each state would have the same number of Senators. This compromise is known as the Great Compromise

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connecticut_Compromise

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