Election Commission Under Scrutiny?
Ritu Raj Subedi
The UK does not have a written constitution. The ‘mother of parliament’ operates its state of affairs based on a set of laws, rules and regulations framed by the parliament and court as well the treaties and international agreements. Because of the long tradition and practice of parliamentary democracy, it is able to sort out major political issues without a national charter. Legal lacunas hardly come in the way ofmeeting the nation’s political, economic and social objectives. On the contrary, weNepalis have written seven constitutions in the last seven decades. Still we have been bogged down by disputes related to the statue and associated laws. In most cases, the constitutional provisions open the fault lines and become sources of nasty conflict and confrontation. The recurrent deadlocks always hit the body politics with the pugnacious political parties often involved in exploiting the constitutional andlegal gaps to fulfill their vested interests. This has deprived the citizens of due dividends of democracy. Stability, peace and prosperity have eluded them for decades.
The ongoing debate with regard to the formation of a new government can be viewed against this backdrop. The Election Commission (EC) and the opposition parties are at loggerheads with the delay in the announcement of results of the election to the House of Representatives under the proportional representation (PR) system. Citing election law, the EC has refused to make public the PR results that has not only caused an inordinate delay in the election of new prime minister but also given rise to speculations that the constitutional body has undermined the popular mandate and is acting at beck and call of external elements. The EC has dug its heels in and turned down the call to declare the PR results until the election to the National Assembly is held.
MentioningArticle 84 (8) of the constitution, the EC argues that each political party must send 33 per cent women to the federal parliament. If the parties fail to ensure 33 per cent women lawmakers through the first-past-the-post category and election to the NA, they should make up the deficit from the PR quotas. So the NA election is necessary before the PR resultsare made public. However, the opposition parties argue that the constitution has obliged the parties to ensure 33 per cent women in the House while fielding their candidates in the election. The NA will have at least 22 women, 37 per cent of its total members. When the political parties pick 33 per cent women under the PR arrangement, the federal legislative body will automatically have 33 per cent women, the opposition maintains.
Chief election commissioner DrAyodhee Prasad Yadav has publicly said that that the federal parliament comprises both the House of Representatives and the NA so the poll results of Lower House can’t be declared until the NA poll was held. Nonetheless, the past practice undercuts Yadav’s claim. Nepal had adopted bicameral parliament following the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990. The NA was formed only after the formation of government under Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala. The NC emerged the largest party fromthe general election held in May of 1991. That time the EC had not brought dispute as it is doing now.
Look at the timeline of poll and government formation in 1991:
- Election to the House of Representatives was held on Baisakh 29, 2048 BS.
- Prime Minister of interim government Krishna Prasad Bhattarai tendered his resignation to King Birendra on Baisakh 31.
- The EC made public the poll results of House of Representatives on Jestha 9.
- The King appointed NC president GP Koirala as the new PM on Jestha 12.
- PM Koirala formed his cabinet on Jestha 15 and the King summoned the first convention of parliament for Asad 6.
- A cabinet meeting approved the Act related to the NA election on Jestha 23 and the EC issued a notice to conduct the NA poll on Asad 12. The newly elected lawmakers took oath of office and secrecy on the same day. Thus, the new PM was elected three weeks before the oath-taking of the members of parliament.
Likewise, the ManmohanAdhikary-led government was formed prior to the oath-taking of lawmakers on Mangsir 14, 2051 BS. These examples contradict Yadav’s statement that the newly elected members of federal and provincial parliament can’t cast their votes in the House or become a minister until they take the oath of office and secrecy. No provision of the constitution has spelt out this condition. Similarly, Article 76 (1,2 and 3) of new constitution that is related to government formation has not mentioned the NA election as a precondition to the appointment of new prime minister.
It is worth mentioning here that the EC had, in its Note 2 of poll schedule of recent federal election, stated: “The election results will be declared after the vote counting is completed” as per Clause 7 of House of Representatives Members Election Act, 2074 (2017). The intriguing part is the EC had issued a notice asking the parties to register with the election body for the NA poll in 15 days although the ordinance related to the NA election was yet to be approved by the President.
On December 20, EC chief Yadav went to CPN-Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal DahalPrachanda’s residence at Lazimpat. Responding to a query of Prachanda over the delay of the PR election results, Yadav said: “Do not cast doubt on my intention; I have to listen to the views of all. There are other commissioners, too. There is also pressure form the government and other parties. I have asked the EC employees to complete the work at the earliest. I am planning to submit all results in lump sum to the President within three or four days.”
However, more than a month has elapsed since the federal polls were held and the EC has put the PR results on hold, giving an impression that the NA election is also like the general election that requires lengthy legal process and consumes time. It is a universal democratic practice that the victorious parties are called to form the new government immediately after the polls are held. The legal loopholes are not picked up to delay the political process. Though the government has announced to conduct the NA election on February 7, the current impasse suggests that the parties sorely lack constitutional vision and democratic culture essential to resolve the unnecessary political deadlocks that pester the country time and again.