Proposed Electoral Bills Some Provisions Questioned
Politically, Nepal has undergone a seminal change during recent years. This is indicated by a shift from centralised unitary state structure with traditional monarchy to federally reorganised democratic republic. This political transformation is an epoch-making event in itself. This type of change does occur rarely in the life of any nation. Nepal has, indeed, achieved the political feat of this kind.
It took many years of struggle, twists and turns for this country to come to such a pass. The 10-year-long armed struggle waged by the Maoists makes one shudder when one remembers killings of the innocent people perpetrated by both the state and rebel forces.
However, we can take solace partly only from the meaningful political changes and forward looking transformation that have been heralded in the country engendered due to these types of conflicts. As a consequence, the new democratic federal Constitution has been enacted and delivered by the Constituent Assembly more than a year ago.
Needless to say, as the Constitution reflects, embodies and institutionalises the political changes in the country, it has several salient features as well. The Constitution clearly mentions that the sovereignty and state power is vested in the Nepalese people. It firmly acknowledges the cultural diversity and ethnic plurality of the nation. The Constitution provides for the fundamental rights of the citizens, both civil and political
rights (CPR), and the economic social and cultural rights (ECSR) and envisages commissions to protect and promote rights and entitlements of the marginalised communities and minority groups and so on.
The particular mention should be made of the recognition to and embodiment of the local government as the third important tier of the government. The local governments have been endowed with a separate constitutionally allocated list of functions and competencies which they can undertake autonomously without interference of the federal and provincial level. The most noticeable feature of the Constitution is that it envisages provisions relating to the political parties. The constitutional provisions aim at making political parties democratically institutionalised, oriented and structured.
Moreover, the provisions embody and promote intra-party democratic system and disposition coupled with transparency and accountability in their organisational hierarchies, roles and functions. However, challenges persist in the implementation of the constitutional provisions. The constitutional arrangements and provisions make no sense and hold no meaning if they are not implemented subservient to its letter and spirit. In this regard, a large number of new laws have not only to be formulated but also amendment to the prevailing laws need to be carried out to adapt them to the letter and spirit of the Constitution.
It is roughly calculated that at least 150 new legislations/regulations have to be formulated to enable and facilitate the new Constitution to enter into force. Moreover, there are issues and grievances raised especially from the Madhes-based parties in regard to redrawing and re-demarcation of the boundaries of the provinces.
The Constitution fixes seven provinces indicating their boundaries and territorial jurisdictions. But this has been objected to and opposed by the Madhesi leaders. The grievances have to be tackled to allow smooth pathways for the implementation of the constitution.
Moreover, there is a mandatory constitutional obligation to hold elections for local, federal and provincial levels to take the process of the constitution implementation forward. The incumbent government has committed to hold the elections for local government by mid-April 2017 to ensure that the process for implementation of the Constitution sets and gains a pace. Accordingly, with a view to update and restructure laws pertaining to the Election Commission, the political parties, voters registration and voting procedures, the government has tabled draft of bills in the parliament for legislative deliberation and their ratification recently. These bills are presumably tabled in the parliament keeping in view the agonisingly long deferred local polls that has not been held for almost two decades.
Since the bills are very significant and crucial in managing and conducting democratic elections for local, provincial and federal levels, these need to be deliberated in political and civic forums to assess carefully the effects and repercussions they could have in the overall structures, roles and functions of the political parties apart from the process and mechanism of holding democratic elections. The discussions have become necessary particularly due to the fact that the bills tabled for parliamentary deliberations reportedly contain some provisions that not only contradict with the constitutional provision for democratic structures and orientation of the political parties but also stand against the established and well recongised mandate of the Election Commission.
Unless the impugned provisions in the draft bills are corrected and reformed in line with the provisions enshrined in the Articles 269, 270 and 271 of the Constitution, the political parties in Nepal would be turned into institutionalised oligarchic institutions. As the political parties have been dominant actors in the Nepalese political landscape from long they have virtually captured both political and civic space reducing the Nepalese democracy as a form of partycracy or party dictatorship.
Major decisions that need to be taken through democratic deliberations have been decided by the coterie of political leaders taking their personal and party interests into account. The parties have worked in closer rapport with bureaucracy to meddle with and take away the spirit enshrined in the original provisions of the draft bills reportedly prepared and presented to the government by the Election Commission. Should the draft bills allowed to pass in the present form as these stand today, elections would be held only at the mercy and whims of the political parties and electoral exercise would be a farcical venture.