The right to public promise review: A citizens’ tool for political accountability

Photo: Pexels/ Sora Shimazaki

We have all felt that sinking disappointment when a politician we voted for completely drops the ball on their big campaign promises. You get all fired up during the election, hanging on their every word as they paint this grand vision for the future.

But then they take office and those lofty pledges get shoved aside without a second thought. It’s like they just wanted to tell us what we wanted to hear to win our votes.  It’s a vicious cycle that leaves many of us feeling jaded and distrustful of the whole political game.

But what if there was a way to hold their feet to the fire of the promises that got them elected in the first place? No more empty rhetoric or conveniently “forgetting” what they vowed to do once the campaigning is over.  That’s the idea behind this crazy but brilliant concept called the right to public promise review. Essentially, it creates a system to make politicians own up to their words after the election is won. 

The process

During the campaigning, candidates have to formally register all their biggest, marquee promises with an independent, non-partisan organisation. Bam – now those promises are locked in officially, in black-and-white, before a single vote is cast. No walking them back later. Then, let’s say a year into their term, us regular citizens can raise our hands and say “Excuse me, but whatever happened to that huge economic plan you promised?”

We file a petition calling for a review of that specific promise. It’s like we are the refs throwing the flag on them. From there, this non-partisan commission of respected experts and everyday folks like you and me investigates what went down. They verify the promise was legitimately made, dig into all the details of what happened or did not happen, and then hold these big public hearings. 

Can you imagine? The politician would have to march right in and face their constituents to defend themselves on why they fell short or broke that promise entirely. No more hiding or brushing it off. They would be in the hot seat having to own their actions. And if the commission ultimately decides the promise was straight-up broken based on the evidence, they would issue this huge public report laying it all out in brutal detail for the world to see. But here’s the kicker – they’d also make direct recommendations on how that politician should make it right. Maybe that means rewriting policies, reallocating funds, or just sucking it up and apologising to the public for over-promising. 

The transparency

With all those expert findings and citizen accountability measures out in the open, there is no way a politician could just ignore it. We are talking about public outcry, media condemnation, and total transparency. They would have to face the music on why they failed to deliver, one way or another.

At the end of the day, this whole review process would be a forceful way to remind our elected leaders who they work for – us, the people. When we vote them into office, we are entrusting them to pursue our best interests, not just their power plays. An official accountability system like this helps reinforce that sacred duty.

Of course, there would still be kinks to work out in real life. You know some politicians would fight tooth-and-nail against anything that cramps their style too much. And it would not be easy logistically to investigate every single broken promise and hold hearings for every little thing.

But those are details you could figure out as it gets implemented, maybe start small with just the biggest ticket items each term.  The core idea though? Being able to grab politicians by the lapels and demand they finally pay up on the debts they racked up with all those campaign promises that got our hopes up?

That’s the kind of people-powered accountability we should strive for in a true democracy. Just imagine a world where honesty and follow-through on campaign guarantees were the norm, not the exception.

A world where politicians knew any empty rhetoric or lazy broken promises would be called out in a big way, so they’d be wise to make only realistic, well-planned promises from the jump. No more say-anything-to-win mentality. 

For those of us who just want our elected leaders to stay true to their word and fight for the changes we voted them in to make, that kind of world sounds pretty dreamy. It’s an audacious goal for sure, but having a robust public promise review process could be a game-changing first step down that path.

So instead of throwing our hands up at the whole broken system, we should explore big ideas like this one. Daring ideas could help Nepal regain some control and give citizens real power to keep our leadership’s priorities in check. Who knows, getting something like this in place could be the spark that finally rebuilds our faith in true democratic accountability.

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Chaudhary is a law student at Nepal Law Campus.

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