KATHMANDU, June 3: The Election Commission (EC) on Saturday instructed the local election officer to conduct a re-poll in ward 19 of Bharatpur Metropolitan City, ending a week of confusion whether to resume vote counting there or go for a re-poll. But the main opposition CPN-UML has termed the decision ‘misfortunate’ and election experts warned that a merely straightforward interpretation of the law in resolving the Bharatpur incident could complicate future elections and weaken the election body.
Citing a provision of the Local Level Election Act, a board meeting of the EC has decided to instruct the chief returning officer to cancel the vote in the disputed ward and conduct fresh elections there.
“We have decided to conduct a re-election in compliance with the law and the report prepared by a probe committee and the chief returning officer. Some have called for resumption of vote counting but we have decided in accordance with the law and past precedent,” said Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav.
The election body itself was not unanimous in its decision. Election Commissioner Narendra Dahal has not signed the minutes of the decision to conduct re-polling in ward 19. “He attended the meeting but refused to put his signature on the minutes,” said a source privy to the development.
Dahal was named election commissioner under the UML quota. UML has been demanding resumption of vote counting, arguing that the ballot tearing incident was deliberately staged and election officers were acting on instructions from the government and the EC. Soon after the ballot tearing, the ruling Nepali Congress and UCPN (Maoist), which have forged an arrangement to elect Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s daughter Renu Dahal as Bharatpur mayor, called for a re-poll.
Chief Election Commissioner Yadav and Commissioner Sudhir Kumar Shah were named to their posts with backing from the Maoists. The remaing two commissioners--Ila Sharma and Ishwari Prasad Paudyal-- were appointed from the Nepali Congress quota.
CEC Yadav has urged all the parties and stakeholders to respect the constitutional body’s decision and not take things amiss. “Some votes were destroyed in the course of counting and we cannot proceed with the vote count without respecting those votes also,” said CEC Yadav adding, “Nobody should take it otherwise.”
However, cadres of the CPN-UML, whose candidate was said to be leading in the vote count, were quick to take to the streets. Terming the EC decision ‘misfortunate’, UML leaders were also quick to protest against the EC decision. The UML cadres burnt a copy of the decision, demanding resumption of vote count.
UML has warned of stern protests including obstruction to the ongoing prime ministerial election and challenging the election body’s decision at the apex court. The party believes the election body decided to conduct re-election under pressure from the government.
“This decision is very fortunate. Government pressure on the election commission’s decision-making is obvious. Both the government and the EC will have to pay a huge price for this,” said UML leader Agni Kharel.
Experts on election matters termed the EC decision an effort to weaken the election body and the democratic process. “It will invite serious complications in coming elections,” said former chief election commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety.
Former CEC Uprety said the EC should not have decided in this fashion. “A merely straightforward interpretation of the law can invite complications in future elections and weakens the election body itself. It has set a wrong precedent. Any party now fearing loss in an election can tear up ballot papers and the EC will have to order a repoll,” said Uprety.
Uprety had suggested the election body should first quarantine the torn ballots and resume counting of the remaining ballots. He is also for amending the law to avoid any legal confusion, so that the election body would be able to exercise its prerogative in resolving such disputes in future.
The election in Bharatpur has became a matter of prestige as Maoist Center fielded Renu Dahal, the daughter of Prime Minster Pushpa Kamal Dahal, as its mayoral candidate.
Out of 29 wards in Bharatpur, the votes cast in 27 wards have already been counted. The votes from ward 19 were being counted when the ballot tearing took place.
CPN UML’s mayoral candidate Devi Gyawali was leading the race by 733 votes. Gyawali had received 41,641 votes and Maoist Center candidate Dahal was trailing with 40,908 votes.