It is amazing that over 65 percent of all eligible voters took part in the first phase of the two-phase provincial and federal elections on Sunday. Many braved chilling winds and even snow to vote in the election that was held in the 32 hilly and mountainous districts right across Nepal.
According to the Election Commission, as results come in, the voter percentage could go up. We see such enthusiastic voter participation as a ringing endorsement of Nepal’s broader political course laid down by the new constitution. It is also indicative of people’s abiding faith in the democratic process and their shunning of extremism of all kind. Save for some sporadic events of violence, the first phase was by and large peaceful, thanks in no small part to our committed police forces as well as the national army that provided peripheral security.
The peaceful first phase now stands the country in good instead for the second phase, when most of the country will vote, on December 7. As we said earlier, the first phase election marks the beginning of the end of the protracted peace and constitution process that started with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) in 2006.
The Election Commission must be congratulated for the way it was able to press ahead with the election process despite a myriad challenges, not the least of them printing separate ballot papers for FPTP and PR components following a last-minute Supreme Court verdict. It is true that the commission could have done a lot more to rein in the excesses of the political parties during the campaigning phase.
It could also have acted more independently of the ruling parties. But while these are valid criticisms, credit must be given where it is due. Commission officials have worked night and day to make these elections possible. As have the thousands and thousands of security personnel, field officers, and local administrative bodies. It could not have been easy to pull off such a colossal exercise at such a short notice. Kudos to all those who made it possible. They were largely successful; both national and foreign election observers have given their stamp of approval.
But people also have some concerns in the post-election phase. The ballots that were cast on Sunday will not be counted until the end of the second phase election on December 7. Many people are curious about how the Election Commission will ensure the safety of ballot boxes in the next 11 days. This is why it is important for the commission to clearly lay out its plan to secure these ballot boxes against tampering.
Transparency and continuous communication will thus be vital. Since most of the country is yet to vote, the job is not even half done. But the omens are good. If the second phase can also take place peacefully, as seem more likely now, then the country will have made a giant stride in the institutionalization of the nascent federal democratic republic. We cannot wait for December 7.