How should the new MPs stay connected to people?

At least once in a month, the new MPs should hold a town hall meeting where the public from their constituencies can come and interact live with them.


Simone Galimberti

  • Read Time 5 min.

With the House of Representatives summoned for its first meeting on January 9, I am wondering about ways that the newly elected members of the chamber can embrace to foster their personal accountability and closeness with their constituencies.

Surely none of the ideas that are popping up in my mind are rocket science but sometimes even the simplest initiative can do wonders and create a better, more inclusive and even transparent polity. For example, thinking from the perspective of a young voter who cast her ballot for a change, what would be her expectations now?

How would this person remain “engaged” with the political discourse at national level and commit herself to remain as much interested and active in politics as possible?

First of all, communicating efficiently and periodically will be key.

The new MPs should harness all the potential of social media to explain to the people what’s going on with their work, bringing in the nuances of their jobs to the general public. Because it is one thing to read news from the media but it is a completely different thing to grasp the so called “nitty-gritty” of political issues.

An idea could be for the MPs to come online once in a week with a summary of what “happened” to them over the past seven days, explaining the meetings they had in a way to enable the viewers to better understand the multifaceted positions that an elected representative might have to consider on one particular issue.

Let’s not forget it: Policies are rarely either “white or black” and there are so many details that often make an apparent good solution to a problem, either inadequate or only partially meeting the needs of the expectations. The issue of citizenship, for example, is one of the most complex issues Nepal is grappling with.

Almost everyone agrees that something must be done but then the propositions and solutions can vary according to different perspectives.

The same could be said for ways to make political parties more transparent and less corruption prone. It is an issue that everyone complains about but what are the solutions?

Here are some ideas and propositions that could help bridge the gap between politics and citizenry.

Keep talking

To start with, I imagine a once in a week live show where the new MP comes on social media to explain the complexities of her job.

Understandably, through this platform, she might not disclose everything or mention names but still the watchers will have, as result, a much better clarity on the issues that MPs have to deal with.

In addition, through social media, MPs could organize panel discussions with their colleagues, including those who think differently from them.

This could be another space where different opinions emerge and are listened to by the people and ultimately, it is another tool that basically would not require any budget. Obviously, leveraging social media should not come at the expense of in-person interactions and more traditional ways of communicating.

Therefore, at least once in a month, the new MPs should hold a “town hall” meeting where the public from their constituencies can come and interact “live” with them. It would be a great way for the MPs to stay connected with their constituencies and not become too detached from the people who voted either for or against them.

These can be small meetings with even few people participating as the most important thing would be to let people know about this opportunity of interaction exclusively with their MPs.

Moreover, to enable such a sense of “vicinity” between them and the common people, the new elected officers could ‘advertise’ an official phone number where their constituencies can call at least six days in a week from 10 am to 5pm.

This line of communication could be handled by one of the MPs assistants or, probably even better, by some volunteers. Elections and campaigning are always the most important events to allow politicians to get in touch with the people.

The main idea is that the MPs should never “move on” from the opportunity of interacting with the people they had while they were asking for a vote. Why not assign some of the persons who volunteered for them during the campaign some responsibilities, including the role of being the MP’s ‘liaison officers,’ the persons whose responsibility is to be in touch with the electorate?

Some others who were active during the elections could help and be useful in other ways. For example, university students or professionals could volunteer by researching and analyzing aspects of the policies being debated. Those voters with a less formal education could play an important role as “watchdogs”, trying to read people’s mood and opinions and be always ready to use their wisdom to give the new MPs some good advice.

Then at more formal levels, the new MPs should establish strong partnerships with the locally elected officials, mayors, deputy mayors and other executive members of the city and ward assemblies. This is another way, probably something that is normally already happening, for the MPs to try to help solving local problems without forgetting an important caveat: the MPs are members of the legislative body and, in no way, they hold executive positions.

Collaborating with the locally elected officials, regardless of the respective political “color,” is important but it is also essential for the MPs not to step too much into local politics and trying to replace those duly elected to solve local problems.

Creating citizens’ assembly

An interesting platform that MPs could use to bring together all the stakeholders, including locally elected duty holders, voters and representatives of civil society and private sector, could be the establishment of informal “Citizens’ Assemblies”.

It is a topic that I have discussed in this column earlier on and it is a subject that I am passionate about because I believe that traditional forms of liberal democracies based on representation through voting, are becoming obsolete and inadequate for our times.

Let’s not forget that in theory those sitting in the parliament are “just” the representatives of the people but unfortunately the voters, once elections are concluded, are forgotten and neglected.

Citizens’ Assemblies could be informal forums that could be held once every four months where local and national issues are debated among the participants. In many places around the world, such gatherings are getting more and more “institutionalized” and formalized, becoming a key component of new participatory governance that is by default bottom up rather than top down.

In such places, especially in Europe, the local governments are taking the initiative, in many instances under the “pressure” of the electorate, to ensure politics that is not only closer and closer to the people but also centered on them. Slowly such assemblies are becoming places of real decision making not replacing, at least not yet, the traditionally elected city councils but complementing them.

To start with, the new MPs could just offer a space of “proximity” politics where elected officials, at local, provincial and federal level, can meet, discuss and, very importantly, also listen to the people.

There are different ways to do this, from open floor sessions where participants just raise an issue they want to be discussed to more thematic based gatherings that would only be centered on topics that are commonly agreed in advance.

The overarching goal of these ideas is to create a bond between elected politicians and the people but, actually, this aim entails something else, probably even more important. Ultimately, the new MPs should encourage their voters to step in the political realm or as a valid alternative, motivate them to become more active at societal level.

While the country desperately needs a new crop of politicians, Nepal also needs more youngsters ready to jump in the civic arena. After all, we should not have strict and rigid boundaries between doing good in politics and doing good in society. After all, aren’t these the same thing? On that note, Happy New Year to all.

Views are personal.