EC And Electoral Integrity

Mukti Rijal

Nepal has braced for implementation of federal reorganisation of the state pursuant to the provisions of the new constitution. With a view to provide and develop framework for elections to conform to the new constitutional arrangements, some new laws have been formulated while others are under deliberation in the Parliament. However, it is dismaying to note that  the government has not started  to formulate laws needed  for province level elections yet. This   indicates that the concerned authorities are lagging behind schedule to rise to the needs and demands of the occasion. According to the new constitution, elections for local provinces and federal level have to be conducted within January 2018,  just after the period of nine months only. However, the preparation for the elections seems to be tardy and slow-paced characterised by political apathy and reluctance. The government has wily nily  announced the date for local elections,  of course , giving in to the pressure of the political and citizen stakeholders . This has generated  some enthusiasm and optimism   among the people. But the recent political developments in Madhesh especially following  the hostile confrontation in Saptari have vitiated the environment for the polls and made the political situation extremely  volatile and uncertain. Furthermore,  the case filed in the Supreme court challenging the decision taken by the government to  increase  the number of local government units from 719 to 744  has also added uncertainty and dilemma to the local level election which is just  two months away from now.  It needs to be mentioned that  the election related  laws that have been already passed or being deliberated in the Parliament  contain some loopholes  and deficits that need to be discussed  widely ,  corrected and improved . Mention in this regard deserves to be made of  the symposium organised by the Democracy and Election Concern Nepal (DECON) in which not only flaws in the elections related laws were highlighted but the negative  approach  of the government to deal with the Election Commission and election related issues was subjected  to scrutiny. Headed by former  Chief Election Commissioner and the noted  elections expert  Nilkantha Uprety  DECON has been active, of late,  to lend momentum to the discourse for  democracy building and electoral integrity in Nepal. The overall objective of the symposium, according to Mr. Uprety,  has been  to assess  and reflect upon the provisions of the bills, acts  and legislations that have been already formulated or being formulated by the Parliament  to administer and manage the upcoming elections according to the new constitution of Nepal. Besides, the symposium also aimed at to articulate the suggestions and  concerns   on the  provisions of the  legislations passed by the Parliament recently and the bills  (that  are being deliberated ) which are  feared  to undermine the democratic spirit and integrity of  the electoral process and prejudice the  independence and authority of the Election Commission.

The symposium discussed on all the relevant issues in a  comprehensive way  on all the institutional and practical issues bearing upon the elections in Nepal with special reference to the upcoming polls. In fact , the law relating to the Elections Commission is weak in the sense that it falls short of entrusting major role to EC  in deciding the time and date for elections. The EC has to wait and look to the discretion of the government in making decision in  announcing the date for elections. This has  subordinated and prejudiced the competence and independence of EC to work and  prevail on the issues pertaining to holding and managing the elections. There is, therefore , a need for improvement in the Election Commission Act to empower the EC according to the democratic spirit of the constitution. Moreover, the EC should also enhance and widen  its space and effectiveness  by asserting its authority especially with regard to issues pertaining to holding the democratic  polls. The government behaves EC as its junior and subordinate entity oblivious of the fact that it is an independent constitutional body entrusted to hold elections for all levels of the government. It has been placed more or less  under the purview of the  Home Ministry as it were that the Commission has to abide by the order of the Ministry. Though there is a need to coordinate with the government, this should  be done with the Prime Minister’s Office(PMO),  not  with the Home Ministry. Even at senior political and bureaucratic level a significant shift in their attitude and understanding about the importance and mandate of EC  is necessary. 

There  been the mushrooming growth of the political parties in Nepal  that has made it necessary to stabilise their number through some positive measures and enforcement. In many  democratic  countries this has been managed through introduction of threshold requiring the parties to secure minimum percentage of votes polled in the elections for recognition and representation in the Parliament. Since Nepal has adopted mixed election system with both Proportional Representation and FPTP, threshold needs to provisioned to ensure political stability and also the consolidation of political parties.

The law relating to political parties that is under discussion should envisage provision in this respect. Another important issue discussed in the symposium was the role of media that has been  very crucial for the integrity of the electoral process. However, going by the experiences in the previous CA elections,  media has not always been impartial and fair. The symposium suggested that the Election Commission should take care of it and a strong media monitoring cell needs to be embedded in the EC itself.

Elections in Nepal  have become prohibitively expensive and political parties are not  transparent and accountable to the EC. The EC should find the ways and means to rein in on the mounting elections expenses and ensure that democratic elections are not captured by the plutocratic means.

As emphasised by Election Commissioner Ila Sharma in the symposium, civil society should play crucial and effective role for the purpose of strengthening electoral institutions and help ensure that electoral process is free and fair. It should work not only to monitor and observe the elections but also undertake studies for generation and management of knowledge on democracy and elections. The lawmakers should also make their role in the Parliament effective especially with regard to reforming the election laws and strengthening the electoral institutions in Nepal. This is the only way to consolidate the base of democratic institution and process in  Nepal.

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