KATHMANDU, March 9: Amid speculation whether the ongoing tensions in the southern region of the country could affect the local elections, the Election Commission (EC) on Wednesday said preparations have now reached a point of no return.
Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav said the election body will not back away from its commitment to making the May 14 local elections a success. "There is no turning back. There are some challenges but we will overcome them and press ahead," said Yadav speaking to journalists at EC headquarters.
The election chief 's commitment comes after the agitating Madhes-centric parties intensified their anti-poll protests, targeting election officials and pro-poll parties in the tarai districts. "They [protesters] have vandalized my residence and election officials in the tarai are facing threats," said CEC Yadav adding, "Despite all these challenges we are pressing ahead."
Protesting parties on Wednesday vandalized election offices in Saptari and Rautahat districts. CEC Yadav asked the government to provide foolproof security and ensure the safety of election officials, constesting parties and the candidates.
The EC, which has already unveiled a detailed work calendar for the elections, is encouraged by the government's move to finalize the number of local units and the timely relase of funds required for the poll exercise. The government has already released Rs 10 billion to the election body to expedite poll preparations. On Wednesday, the government handed over the report of the Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC) to the election body, clearing the way for fixing the polling stations at local level and deploying election officials. The EC had been unable to fix the polling stations, deploy its officials and begin other poll preparations in the absence of the LLRC report.
Revising its previous decision of fixing 719 local units, the government has now increased this number to 744 to accommodate the demands of Madhes-centric parties. The Madhes-centric parties had been demanding half the total number of local units for the southern plains.
"Poll preparations were already underway. The submission of the report has cleared the way to begin the real preparations. This has further encouraged us and election officials are being deployed to the local level soon," said EC Commissioner Ila Sharma.
Immediately after finalization of the number and borders of the local units, a board meeting of the EC endorsed the Local Level Election Regulations. It has also finalized the number of parties wishing to contest the local elections. "Details of the parties contesting the election are being published in tomorrow's (Thursday) Gorkhapatra. If the parties have nothing more to say over the details we will begin the crucial task of designing of ballot papers," said Election Commissioner Ishwari Prasad Paudyal.
The EC has already begun the preparation of 67 types of election materials. Public tenders have been called for ballot boxes and other logistics. The EC has signed a contract with Janak Shikshya Samagri Kedra to print 15.5 million ballot papers.
Officials at the EC say preparations are underway to deploy 21,000 volunteers for voter education. The volunteers will inform voters about the election system and voting procedures.
In view of the fast approaching poll date, the EC has set a target of printing the ballot papers within 30 days. The ballot papers will be printed at three different places.
The EC has also asked the government to release a budget for the security agencies. Officials said the security agencies have demanded Rs 31.5 billion. "Our election officials are unsafe. We are committed to our mission to hold the elections and security will not be compromised," said CEC Yadav.
Details about the firms to be involved in ballot paper printing were not disclosed.
In view of the ongoing tensions among the political parties, the EC has urged all parties to exercise restraint.