EC And Electoral Integrity
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.