The Supreme Court on October 25 had inquired with the Election Commission if separate ballot papers were being prepared for provincial and federal elections, as separate laws governing the two elections make it ‘mandatory’ to do so. This ruling has created confusion as there are no clear-cut mandatory provisions that there should be two separate ballot papers for two elections. But if the apex court is worried that voters may get confused with a single ballot paper for two elections, at the outset, it is a valid concern. Perhaps if there were two different ballot papers for two elections, voters may be less confused, but, then, chances are, they might get even more confused. This is because if there are separate ballot papers for provincial and federal elections, then a voter will then have to collect and stamp a total of four ballot papers (instead of two now)—two each for FPTP and PR components. Also, in the sample ballot papers that have been published by the Election Commission, the provincial and federal components are clearly demarcated and it is doubtful that having one instead of two ballot papers will in any way aid voter comprehension. But this is not just a question of intent. It is also about timing.
The commission has already clarified that there is not enough time to print new ballot papers ahead of the November 26 and December 6 elections. Thus, if new ballot papers are to be adopted, the polls will have to be deferred. That would be dangerous. Winter is already setting in and soon it will start snowing in mountain areas, and it will be impossible to hold elections there. As it is, the commission is operating with a very narrow time-frame. Deferring elections is also unwise because the whole country is gearing up for the two-phase elections. There is great public enthusiasm to vote. Poll postponement, under any pretext, would invite an instant backlash, which in turn will be hard for the government to handle. But an even bigger concern is that if the elections are postponed now, the constitutional deadline of January 21, 2018 for holding all three sets of elections could be missed. The repercussions of the ensuing constitutional vacuum are hard to imagine. Perhaps espying an outside chance in this chaos, the royalists are already stirring to revive monarchy; extremists of all colors are waiting in the wings.
We are confident that our judiciary is wise enough to understand the grave implications of postponing elections. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and his government also most surely do. In a democracy, the first guiding principle of any organ of the state should be to ‘do no harm’. There is nothing meaningful to be achieved by postponing elections, but the costs of it to the country could be incalculable. On the other hand, if these elections take place on time, the long political transition will come to a definite end, and the country could then enter a new era of peace, stability and prosperity. It is an easy choice.