We learnt a serious lesson from Bharatpur incident, says Dr Yadav
The Election Commission successfully concluded the first and second phase of the local level elections on May 14 and June 28 respectively and accomplished almost all the preparatory works for the third phase of the elections scheduled for September 18 in Province 2. Soon after the second phase of the elections, the election body had proposed two tentative dates for the elections to the provinces and House of Representatives. Besides, the EC has also been carrying out the voters’ list updating programme across the country in view of the upcoming two-tier polls.
However, top leaders of major political parties have recently called for holding the two level polls on a single date. Amarendra Yadav of The Rising Nepal spoke to Chief Election Commissioner Dr. Ayodhee Prasad Yadav on several issues pertaining to the coming poll, and preparation for this.
How does the Election Commission assess the first and second phases of the local level elections?
The Election Commission (EC) is yet to do a final review of the local level elections as the third phase of the elections in Province 2 has not been conducted. We also believe that the review should be conducted as per a bottom-up approach. But, we have not yet sat with the Chief Returning Officers, Returning Officers and District Election Officers for a review. Nonetheless, we can confidently say that the first and second phase polls were a huge success due to the high turnout of voters, and the elections have become model elections due to the sincere commitment and support of the political parties, government, civil society and media and the skilled management of the Election Commission.
The Election Commission had decided on a re-poll in ward No. 19 of Bharatpur Metropolitan City following a dispute. Later, a writ was filed at the Supreme Court against the EC’s decision. But the Court upheld the EC’s decision. How do you interpret this?
The EC had officially said that the tearing of ballot papers in Bharatpur was a very unfortunate incident. The Commission took the decision to hold a re-election in ward No. 19 of Bharatpur Metropolitan City after a long study and investigation into the incident. The decision of the re-election was also in line with the Local Level Election Act. The dissenting party challenged the decision at the Supreme Court. Fortunately, the Court endorsed the decision of the election body. We are happy with the Court’s verdict and took it very positively.
What is the lesson the Election Commission has learned from the Bharatpur incident?
I have already said that it was a very unfortunate incident. The Election Commission had never expected such an incident to occur. But we learned a serious lesson from the incident. Due to the grave lesson, such an incident did not repeat during the second phase of the elections. We made our managerial work more proficient and effective during the second phase elections. As a result, we held the second phase of the elections more cautiously, deputed more competent staff for vote counting and strengthened the security management.
It is said that the ratio of the invalid votes during the first and second phase of the elections was unexpectedly high. What are the reasons behind it?
Firstly, I want to make it clear that the ratio of the invalid votes was not as high as reported in some media reports. The number of ballot papers that were entirely invalid is significantly less than the number of ballot papers that were partially invalid. It is true that the inefficiency of the voters’ education might have been a reason behind it. But it is not the sole reason. The primary reason is that the ballot papers were unusually large and complex due to a large number of political parties contesting the elections. The ballot papers became large also because the voters had to vote for seven candidates for different posts in a single ballot paper at the same time. That is why the confidence of even the educated voters was low during the voting. Besides, the voters were seen confused about the selection of candidates from the different parties due to the electoral alliance between the parties during the elections.
How is the Election Commission preparing for the third and last phase of the local elections to be held in Province No. 2 on September 18?
The EC takes every election seriously and accords top priority to it. It is also taking the third phase of the elections to be conducted in Province No 2 very seriously. The required election materials have already been sent to the respective districts. The packing of the materials on the basis of the polling centres has also been completed. The EC does face a shortage of election materials. The formulation of an election security plan is underway. We are also planning human resources to be deployed in the September 18 elections. We will send observation and monitoring teams separately to eight districts. There is no reason to worry about the elections in Province 2. The voters of the Province have become more conscious, and they are excited to cast their ballots in the elections. We are hopeful that the third phase of the elections will also be a success.
Would you highlight the preparations being made for the upcoming provincial and national elections that must be conducted by January 21 next year?
Soon after the completion of the second phase of the local elections, we submitted a proposal of the tentative timeline for the provincial and national elections to the government. We had asked the government for the required election laws and the report on constituency delineation, but the government could not provide them to us within the given deadline. That is why the election body is in a bit of a dilemma. The election-related laws are still under consideration in the parliament. The government recently formed a Constituency Delimitation Commission, which is working on it.
On part of the EC, we have started initial preparations for the two elections. The on-going programme of updating the voters’ list across the country is a part of it. We have also started managing election materials for the provincial and national elections. We are thinking of using the materials meant for the local election in the two elections. The procurement process for the new election materials will begin after the dates for the upcoming elections are announced.
How satisfied is the Election Commission with the voters’ list updating programme and the participation of new voters in the campaign?
New voters are registering their names in the voters’ list in a very festive mood and environment. They are very energetic. That is why the queues of people registering their names in the voters’ roll are so long and unprecedented. The success of the two phases of the local elections has definitely impressed and added enthusiasm among the new voters. The political parties and other stakeholders are also encouraging the citizens to register their names in the voters’ list. The enthusiasm of the voters has proved that the Nepali people’s faith in the periodic elections and democracy has increased.
The Election Commission has suggested two separate dates for the elections to the provinces and House of Representatives. But top leaders of the major political parties have recently started pressing for holding the two elections on a single day. In view of the January 21 constitutional deadline, can both the elections be held on a single date?
Under the current circumstances, holding the two elections on a same date will be challenging. The election body has not received all the essentials, including legal documents and laws, the report on constituency delimitation and election date. If the government and the political parties want to hold the two different elections on the same date, they must provide us all those fundamental laws and materials immediately. Otherwise, conducting the two elections on a single date will be very challenging, not only for the Election Commission, but also for the government, political parties and voters.
The government has not yet talked to us about the issue. First, the government should discuss it with us. Then it must provide all the required legal and logistic support, including laws and the election date immediately. And most importantly, the political parties and the government must agree to hold the two elections through a single ballot paper, not through four different ballot papers.
As a Chief Election Commissioner, you have been consistently demanding that the EC should be authorised to declare the election date. What is your rational behind this demand?
The Election Commission is the sole constitutional body to conduct the elections. That is why it must have the right to fix the election dates. This is to ensure that the periodic elections are held on time, which will, in turn, help consolidate democracy in the country. Besides, this right will also enhance the autonomy and independence of the Commission, thereby, strengthening the democratic process in the country.
If the government and political parties are hesitating to grant such a right to the Commission, the different electoral laws should clearly spell out the provisions mentioning the date and duration of the gap between the polls. Only this kind of legal provision can guarantee periodic elections on time.