A week from polls, parties at odds over vote counting, budget

Published On: May 8, 2017 07:04 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

KATHMANDU, May 7: The first phase of the local elections is just a week away, but the political parties are at odds over two crucial issues—when to count the vote and whether to bring the budget in between the  two phases of polling. 

The main opposition CPN-UML is dead against the idea of starting the vote count immediately after first phase polling is held  in the 283 local units of the three federal provinces. The Election Commission (EC) is conducting the first phase  poll in Provinces 3, 4 and 6, and the second phase will be held in Provinces 1, 2, 5 and 7 after a gap of one month. 

Worried over the security of the ballot boxes,  the election body is for counting the votes soon after the poll is over. But the main opposition believes that the second phase of elections could be influenced by the election results of  the first phase once these are made public. “Holding the polls in a  free and fair manner is more important than the security issue. So, we are asking the Election Commission to hold the ballot boxes in safe keeping until the second phase  is also conducted,” said UML leader Agni Kharel. 

Since the two phases of the election are being scheduled with a huge  gap in between, the  EC is worried that the ballot boxes could be mishandled or that disputes might arise if it fails to complete the vote-counting in time.  “Vote counting should happen soon after the first phase elections,” said Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav.  

Echoing the election body’s stance, the ruling parties have also stressed  the need for starting the vote count in between the two election phases. “It is up to the Election Commission to decide whether to begin vote counting after the conclusion of the first phase  or after  the second phase,” said CPN (Maoist) Spokesperson Pampha Bhusal. 

Transporting the ballot boxes to the district headquarters is always a sensitive matter while providing security for those boxes is considered a most challenging task. “Providing security for the ballot boxes is like waiting on a dead body. It is both challenging and difficult,” said Election Commissioner Ila Sharma, adding, “That’s why we are for counting the votes without waiting for the second phase although that may influence the second phase.” 

The EC was dragged into controversy in the second Constituent Assembly election in 2013 after the Maoists accused the election body of exchanging ballot boxes in collusion with the Nepal Army, the security agency authorized to transport the boxes. The accusation of poll rigging was never substantiated but it caused serious tensions among the major political parties. 

Settling the row over the timing of the budget  has emerged as even more serious than that over the vote-counting. The government is pushing for bringing  the budget on Jestha 15 (May 29) as mandated in the constitution. The opposition parties have taken this as a serious matter, arguing that it could greatly influence the election outcome. “Bringing the budget in between the elections is a serious violation of the election code of conduct. We won’t accept it no matter what,” said  Kharel. 

Keeping the budget day in mind, the opposition parties have proposed  to the government to conduct the second phase  elections between May 23 to 25 so that the government can introduce the budget on the date scheduled in the constitution. 

“The election code of conduct bars the government from bringing the budget [during the elections]. But this is not to say that the EC can overrule the constitution. Given the situation, the parties have to forge an agreement,” said CEC Yadav adding, “Otherwise, they need to present  the budget  to us and we can endorse it after deleting any populist programs.”  

Maoist spokesperson  Bhusal said  her party is working to end the dispute over the budget timing through political consensus among the parties. Bhusal said her party is ready to defer the fiscal budget but stressed  the need for removing the constitutional hurdles.  

“The constitution has clearly prescribed a timeline for unveiling the budget. If we are to defer the date, the constitution should be amended to clear that hurdle,” she said. 

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