KATMANDU, Oct 15: Despite the series of warnings it earlier issued against the government's plans to expand the cabinet, the Election Commission (EC) has given its go ahead for the induction of eight ministers from the Rastriya Prajatantra Party into Sher Bahadur Deuba's cabinet.
Just days before the nomination day for elections to parliament and the provincial assemblies under proportional representation, the election body has reconsidered the idea of taking action against the cabinet expansion, "bearing the upcoming elections in mind". “The election date is nearing and it [taking action] may cause difficulties in managing the elections scheduled for next month. So, we agreed to give the go ahead to the government's plan to reshuffle the cabinet,” said Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Ayodhee Yadav.
A team from the EC led by CEC Yadav held consultations with President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Saturday morning over the cabinet reshuffle.
At the meeting President Bhandari had asked the election commissioners whether the election code of conduct allowed the government to expand the cabinet and she could administer the oath of office and secretary to the new ministers.
In response, the election commissioners said that the cabinet had been reshuffled before this also even after the election code of conduct kicked in and that the move would not impact the elections.
The election commissioners further opined that refusal to allow the cabinet expansion may create an environment unhelpful for the elections.
Eight RPP leaders are being recommended as ministers in the Deuba cabinet. The government is arguing that the cabinet reshuffle was essential as the CPN (Maoist Center), a key coalition partner of the government, had forged an electoral alliance with the main opposition CPN-UML.
Before the cabinet expansion, CEC Yadav himself had asked Prime Minister Deuba not to reshuffle the cabinet. Without clearly mentioning any cabinet reshuffle, the election body warned the government in writing not to take any decision that would affect the upcoming elections.
Soon after the government recommended the eight new ministers on Thursday, CEC Yadav himself had warned of tough measures against the move. But after his discussions with the president, Yadav down-played his earlier remarks against the cabinet, in view of the 'difficult political situation'.
The election code of conduct bars the recruitment, appointment and transfer of government officials and the government needs to consult the election body while taking any decision that might influence elections. The election body has come in for wide criticism for siding with the government instead of creating a level playing field.
Election experts have now raised questions over the EC's impartiality in enforcing the code of conduct.