Civil society's clarion call to boost poll security

Published On: November 20, 2017 06:45 AM NPT By: Bhadra Sharma

KATMANDU, Nov 20: Seriously concerned over the unabated attacks on candidates, election experts, senior bureaucrats and civil society leaders have suggested to the Election Commission (EC) to ask the government bodies concerned to revise the existing security strategies including the categorization of sensitive areas and enforce them accordingly. 

In a consultation with the election commissioners on Sunday, they stressed the need for prompt enforcement of revised security strategies, saying the existing poll plans and measures taken to curb violence are not effective. They warned that the crucial elections may be affected if foolproof security is not ensured.

Despite the government's assurance to ensure foolproof security for the election, candidates have been facing bomb attacks in various parts of the country while conducting election trails. The Netra Bikram Chand-led CPN has claimed responsibility of some of the bomb attacks against CPN (Maoist Center) in the mid-western region of the country but none has claimed the responsibility for attacks against former ministers Ram Sharan Mahat and Ram Chandra Poudel in Nuwakot and Lamjung, respectively. 

"Special security arrangements have become a must for polls given the unabated attacks. And the security plan needs to be revisited when attacks continue unabated," said former chief election commissioner (CEC) Neel Kantha Uprety, "The existing categorization of districts in terms of security threats should also be revised." 

Former CEC Uprety urged the EC to take initiatives for re-enforcing the revised security plan by inviting chiefs of security agencies and top brasses of major political parties at the election body regularly. EC was also urged to coordinate with the government and other security agencies in a better way so that the possible poll violence could be deterred. 

Some retired election commissioners are for transferring army personnel from one barracks to another across the country ahead of the polls so that it could discourage poll opposing groups and taking regular updates from security chiefs on a regular basis. They believe the mobilization of the army will end the growing psychological fear. 

The Ministry of Home Affairs, the body responsible for coordinating security agencies including the Nepal Army, is left without home minister after the Maoist leaders were relieved from their respective responsibilities. Maoist leaders were relieved from responsibilities after the party forged an electoral alliance with the CPN-UML. Currently, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba oversees the home ministry but election commissioners complain of not having time to inquire about recent poll security arrangements. While a series of leaders are facing attacks, PM Deuba is busy in his election campaigns in the far-western region of the country. 

Even as the home ministry has already presented security plans, the election commissioners are concerned over poll security with the candidates facing a series of attacks in various parts of the country. Last Sunday, the chiefs of security agencies and secretaries handling security arrangement were summoned at the EC headquarters to get updates on measures adopted to curb violence. 

"Pre-information can also help the government to avoid poll violence. So, such a mechanism should be activated. Otherwise, we cannot do anything and the voters may not make their way to the poll centers," said another former election chief, Surya Prasad Shrestha advising the need for a proactive government role in maintaining law and order during the elections. 
Former election chiefs Bhojraj Pokharel and Keshav Raj Rajbhandari, commissioner PB Ram Bhakta Thakur, former chief secretaries Bimal Koirala, Damodar Gautam and Tirthaman Shakya among others were present at the consultation. They were invited there for their inputs to a discussion on overcoming security challenges and other difficulties. 

At the discussion, the invitees stressed that the election body should enforce the election code of conduct and form a joint-team of political parties to guard the ballot boxes after the first round of parliamentary and provincial elections. Vote counting of the first round of elections will begin only after the second phase elections are held on December 7.

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