Court convicts 2 Maoists for tearing up ballots in Chitwan

Published On: June 15, 2019 07:15 AM NPT By: Sabita Shrestha

Experts say it’s a moral question
CHITWAN, June 15: After more than two years of the incident, Chitwan District Court on Thursday convicted Drona Bahadur Shiwakoti and Madhu Neupane for tearing up ballot papers during the election in Bharatpur Metropolis in 2017. Shiwakoti and Neupane – two cadres of the then CPN (Maoist Center) – were convicted for tearing up some of the ballots during vote counting in Ward 19.

The vote counting was then halted and reelection held in the ward.

But will the then election authorities including the election commissioners be held accountable for their questionable decision to go for reelection? A former election commissioner and some lawyers said it has raised moral questions although any chance of implicating them on legal grounds is slim. 

“Obviously, it has raised some moral questions,” said former chief election commissioner Bhojraj Pokharel. “Those involved in tearing up the ballot papers have been convicted. But what about those involved if it was all a design to sabotage one side in the election?”

While it has raised moral questions, Pokharel also sees no possibility of implicating the returning officer or the election commissioners although the latest court ruling mentioned ‘some lapses’ in the handling of the election. “Some negligence appeared in handling the election. But legal action is not likely as no complaint was filed against the election officials,” said Pokharel.

On May 29, 2017, two Maoist cadres tore up some ballots when the vote counting was nearing completion and Renu Dahal, the mayor of Bharatpur, was a little behind CPN-UML’s Devi Prasad Gyawali in the count. Of the 29 wards in the metropolis, counting of the ballots in all wards other than 19 and 20 was already complete. Soon after the ballot-tearing incident, the two Maoists were held by police. 

In the re-election, Renu Dahal, daughter of former prime minister and current chair of the ruling NCP Pushpa Kamal Dahal, defeated Gyawali by a slim margin.

Preliminary investigations by the Election Commission district office had found that 90 ballot papers had been torn. These 90 ballots would not have affected the election if the vote counting had gone ahead and either side had won by more than 90 of the remaining votes. Following the ballot tearing, the then CPN-UML had urged continuation of the vote counting. But Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center) demanded a re-election in the ward. Renu Dahal ‘s victory following the re-election was widely criticized.

Two days after the ballot-tearing incident, a case was filed against the two Maoists. Though they were arrested on the spot, they were freed on bail of 
Rs 100,000 a day later. 

Filing complaints against the winning candidate or the election officials would  be almost impossible as Dahal’s Maoist party was backed during the election by current main opposition Nepali Congress in order to counter Gyawali’s UML party. UML, which protested vehemently against the re-poll as vote rigging, has now merged with the Maoists to form a single Nepal Communist Party. 

Constitutional lawyer Tikaram Bhattarai, who had demanded at the Supreme Court that the vote counting should be given continuity instead of going for re-election, argued that there was no ground for calling into question the entire election process and that the two Maoists were convicted for a crime. “Under criminal law, only those involved in a crime are liable, not others,” he said.

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