Election Commission Maintaining Independence
The government has finally appointed three commissioners for the Election Commission after a long hiatus, if not haggling. This is a big relief as the under-equipped Election Commission has been said to be ill-prepared and ill-suited to conduct the yet to be announced local elections and the similar crucial polling exercises for the province and central level that have to be conducted in succession soon . Thanks to the coalition government led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ it has risen to the occasion to give full shape to the commission, perhaps, giving thought to the much talked about impending polls according to the new constitution of Nepal.
.According to the Article 1 of the constitution, the Commission should have five commissioners, including the Chief Commissioner. But the constitutional body was lying in a lame duck position for quite a long time after the three commissioners, including the then Chief Election Commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety got retirement after successfully carrying out the elections of the Constituent Assembly in Nov 2013.
The constitution in its Article 6 prescribes some qualifications laid down as prerequisites for appointment of the EC commissioners. However, the government has appointed mostly the former government secretaries and high level officials as the commissioners in the past as records do indicate that very few persons representing civil society and intelligentsia have been picked up for the EC posts.
Moreover, as the Election Commission is supposed to be the independent, impartial and competent body to organise and conduct the national, provincial and local level polls according to the constitution of Nepal in an irreproachable and unquestionable manner, the commissioners holding the posts in the constitutional body should definitely be the persons of dignity, integrity and credibility with untainted image and reputation in the national walk of life. In fact, those who lead the Election Commission as the commissioners make much difference in conducting democratic polls and substantiating their credibility and fairness.
In the recent past, barring a few grievances raised from different quarters, the Chief Election Commissioners like Bhoj Raj Pokharel and Neel Kantha Uprety were applauded and hailed for giving stewardship on behalf of the Election Commission to conduct polls in the best effective and credible way. Though the parties that had been defeated and humbled in the Constituent Assembly polls held twice during the contemporary times raised some complaints on the election management and administration procedures, there were no such substantively verifiable allegations and accusations to malign and prejudice the role of the Election Commission in these highly crucial franchise exercises. As a result, the political parties that had raised furor and uproar questioning the outcome of the elections could not hold fast to their charges and allegations and the Election Commission role and image came out untainted and spotlessly clean.
The important and well conceived strategy for fair and free franchise exercise adopted by the Election Commission in the CA polls held in 2013 AD had been the initiative taken for the introduction of the voter identity card with photograph of each and every elector. For establishing one’s own eligibility and credibility in casting the vote, the voter identity card distributed by the Election Commission itself was made and enforced as compulsory for each and every adult suffragist. This step was very helpful and effective in curbing and checkmating the fraudulent and foul methods like counterfeit voting, impersonation and misrepresentation which were practiced and applied wantonly and widely to manipulate and alter the outcome of the elections. Especially the second CA polls was widely hailed as free and fair because of the provision of the voter identity card that had more or less ruled out the possibility of fraudulent practices especially attributed to the political party cadres who are instigated to carry out the repeat voting through impersonation and misrepresentation.
Needless to say, there had been some sporadic cases in the past remarking that individual voters tempted to abuse the voting process and did cast votes more than dozen times through recourse to impersonation and misrepresentation especially with a view to enable the party or candidate of his or her favour to win the electoral competition. The provision of voter identity card needs to be enhanced and utilised for the elections in Nepal to make the electoral process free and fair.
In fact, the Election Commission should play the role of an impartial and credible umpire to guarantee the holding of free and fair democratic elections without any tilt to this or that side of the political spectrum. For ensuring the independence of the Election Commission and the election commissioners who are at the helm of the affairs, as argued above, should not only the persons of credibility, fairness and integrity but also be able to maintain neutrality and impartiality.
However, the image of the Election Commission has been allowed to gradually tarnish because of the appointment of commissioners according to the spoil sharing arrangement (Bhagbanda) among the political parties. The media reported the other day that the appointment of the three commissioners recently was executed based on the spoil sharing arrangement among the three major parties namely Nepali Congress, UML and the Maoist-Centre.
This was also echoed by the RPP party chief Kamal Thapa who alleged that the big three parties have hurt the image of the Election Commission by appointing the commissioners strictly on the basis of Bhagbanda. He has alleged that this tendency of the major political parties to put their own people at the helm of the constitutional body in disregard to the merit and distinctiveness exposes the design of derogating the Commission. However, regardless of the modality and strategy of the commissioners’ appointment, the commissioners should uphold the tradition of the independence and neutrality to warrant that the hopes pinned on the constitutional body for free and fair democratic elections do not get belied and shattered.