Social Costs and Benefits of Party Switching in Nepal
Party switching, or changing political party affiliation, is a surprisingly widespread and persistent phenomenon among political leaders in all democracies. Why would political leaders risk careers, prestige, and chances for reelection for uncertain payoffs, thereby giving voters the impression of legislators lacking accountability and representation? Existing research argues that political leaders’ decisions are individually rational vis-à-vis electoral, career, or policy ambitions, and that switching declines as democracy matures. The restoration of democracy in 1990 however established the democratic practice; the Nepalese democracy never consolidated and became mature over the past two and half decades. The emergence of strong sense of ethnicity and regionality among the political leaders and relative absence of political space for marginalized communities in the major political parties namely NC and UML are often reported as major causes for party partition and party switching in Nepal. I also found switching electoral system from first past the post to mixed model provided a significant space to emerge ethnic and regional parties thereby intensifying a party switching. I argue that identity ties as well as issues of representation have substantial effects on party leaders’ behavior thereby overshadowing individual material incentives. The emergence of new parties and higher frequency of party switching however increased a political participation but weakened the strong party system making higher voter’s volatility rate.
For the paper I have used the election data of the 3 consecutive parliamentary elections 1991, 1994 and 1999 and a couple of the Constituent Assembly Elections 2008 and 2013. For the analysis I have created a data set (SPSS) by using the election data recorded in the Election Commission of Nepal. To understand social cost and benefits, I have interviewed some 80 political leaders who have switched their party during the 24 years of democracy.