Improving Laws For Federal Elections

 

Mukti Rijal

 

The bills related with the elections have been submitted for deliberations in the national parliament recently.  The bills were introduced in the legislature-parliament with a view to secure their ratification, to validate, legitmise and convert them into the law of the land. 

Bone of contention

The constitution amendment bill tabled earlier in the parliament has provoked controversy and generated animosity among the political parties. The bone of contention lies on the issue pertaining to re-demarcation of the Province-5 intending to slice off the hill districts from the plains.  The stand off of the parties on the issues pertaining to reorganising the Province-5 through the   amendment has indeed put the constitution implementation process in a limbo. This has provided an excuse for the political  parties to procrastinate and delay the process in regard to announcing the date for the elections.

The ruling coalition seems dragging its feet to announce the date for local elections while the Madhesh-based parties appear reluctant to face the voters to establish and secure their place in their own bastion. These political groups from Madhesh are not sure of their popularity and base among the people because of their alleged vacillation on positions and principles.  These leaders are accused of hankering after power at the expense of the voters to whom they owe their answerability and accountability.  The party that seems to be prepared to take on the challenge of the elections is the CPN (UML) which basks on the perceived surge of popularity for its stance on the national issues.  Its chairman KP Oli has emerged as a strong and decisive leader who is believed to have possessed the capacity and guts to resist the external pressures and diktat to defend and uphold the national interests.  

The country is thus locked in doldrums as the political leaders appear to be myopic and short-sighted solely motivated by their own personal interests.  Doubts persist if the deadline for the elections set by the constitution would be met and in case should it fail, the country will again  fall into constitutional chaos and crisis.  It shows that the patrimonial character of the Nepalese politics and political stakeholders has not changed despite the fact that the country has become a democratic republic through the epoch-making political changes.

At this backdrop, while tacking stock of the political changes during the recent times, one can claim that  Nepal has undergone a seminal change and transformation that is impregnated  with enviable possibilities and opportunities should these transformative openings be put into practice in right earnest.  These changes are firmly indicated by a shift from the centralised unitary state structure to a federally reorganised democratic republic.  

The new democratic federal constitution delivered by the Constituent Assembly that needs to be implemented through elections has several such salient features.  These features include among others the sovereignty vested on the people, fundamental rights of the citizens (civil and political rights or CPR) and the economic social and cultural rights or ECSR) recognition to local government as the important tier of the government (in addition to provincial level at the intermediate   and  federal at the centre ).  Furthermore, the local governments are endowed with separate constitutionally allocated   functions and competencies which tend to create strong basis for their security of existence and functioning.

 Moreover, the constitution stipulates a provision related with political parties.  This provision is very important to embody and promote democratic structures and orientations in the political organisations averred as the vehicles of democracy.  However, as mentioned at the outset the challenges persist in the implementation of the constitutional provisions for which a large number of new laws have not only to be formulated as mentioned above, but amendments to the prevailing laws need to be carried out to adapt them to the letter and spirit of the constitution.  Moreover, there has been the mandatory constitutional obligation to hold elections for local, provincial and federal levels within a year to take the process of the constitution implementation forward.

With a view to update and restructure laws pertaining to the Election Commission, the political parties and voters registration  and voting procedures, the government, as highlighted above, had  tabled draft bills  in the parliament  for deliberation and their ratification. As the  bills are very significant in managing and conducting democratic elections for local, provincial and federal levels, these need to be deliberated not only in the national legislature, but also be vetted carefully  in political and civic forums.  The jeopardizing effects and implications of the provisions in the bills need to be deliberated and singled out should these be implemented without any improvement.  The impacts of the provisions on the overall structures, roles and functions of the political parties, Elections Commission and process of elections should be appraised.

The media reports reveal that the bills tabled for the 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 recognised mandate of the Election Commission.  Unless the impugned provisions in draft bills are corrected and reformed in line with the provisions enshrined in Article 269, 270 and 271 of the constitution, the political parties in Nepal would be turned into institutionalised oligarchic institutions.

Moreover, elections would be held only at the mercy and whims of the political parties and electoral exercise would be a farcical exercise. Therefore, either date for elections should be specified in the law or the Election Commission be endowed with the authority to announce the elections in consultation with the government.  If this is left with the government, there are little chances that the elections will be held in time for integrity of democracy and participation.  For transparency, responsiveness and inter-party democracy the provisions proposed in the political party bill need too be corrected and the Elections Commission should be given authority to sanction the parties failing to abide by the provisions in the act.

Some important aspects in voter registration bill also need to be considered.  For example, consideration can be given to the demand for registration of the migrant labourers or other Nepali citizens as bonafide voters who live far away from the  country for different  purposes.   The difficult part is, however, to afford them the opportunities to cast vote in the polls even though they were living outside the country.

Sheer injustice

 Given the strength and number of the migrant laborers working overseas, it is sheer  injustice to keep them  disenfranchised on the ground of resource crunch and management constraints. As the passage of the bills will pave the way for the  elections,  it is an imperative that deliberations both inside and outside the national legislature be orchestrated and sped up to finalize them subservient to the spirit of democracy, civic participation and independence of the Election Commission

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