EC seeks ‘actual status’ of torn ballots before drawing conclusion

Published On: June 1, 2017 07:22 AM NPT By: Republica

KATHMANDU, May 31: Failing to decide whether or not to resume vote counting in Bharatpur Metropolitan City, the Election Commission (EC) has asked the chief returning officer to report the ‘actual status’ of damaged ballot papers without further delay. 

A board meeting of the EC on Wednesday took this step after concluding that resuming the vote count or going for re-polling would be a ‘premature decision’ without first establishing the exact number of ballot papers that were torn. 

“The probe committee has submitted a report but the report is silent about the number of ballot papers that were torn,” said Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav. “We can take a decision only after we know the exact status of the ballot papers affected.” 

Informed sources say the EC is unlikely to go for a re-poll irrespective of the legal provisions as a re-poll will set a wrong precedent. “We still see the possibility of resuming the stalled vote count and the chances of a re-poll are just 40 percent,” said one election commissioner.

Vote counting in Bharatpur has been halted since Sunday midnight after representatives of the ruling CPN (Maoist Center) torn some ballots when the counting was about to be completed. 

In the aftermath of the vote-tearing incident, the election body had formed a three-member panel headed by Joint Attorney General Geeta Prasad Timsina to investigate the matter. The committee, which has submitted its report to the EC, is silent about the number of voters that were torn.

“They have prepared the report after recording the statements of party representatives deployed at the vote counting center, police officials and locals. But the report does not say anything about the status of the ballot papers,” said an informed source.

As with the media reports, the probe panel has also named Maoist representatives Madhu Neupane and Dronabandhu Shiwakoti as major culprits in tearing the ballot papers.

The election law has a provision for re-polling if ballot papers are seized or looted. But the political parties are divided over resuming the vote count and they have been pressuring the election body  to take a decision as per their own interests.

Ruling Nepali Congress and UCPN (Maoist Center) have been mounting pressure on the EC to go for re-polling in disputed wards while the main opposition CPN-UMLwants to resume the vote count.

After going through  the probe report, election commissioners were at odd over their next move. “The law does not allow us any option but to go for re-polling in a dispute ward. But this option is likely to set a bad precedent  as the preliminary probe shows that the votes were tore in a planned fashion,” said the source.

At the meeting, the commissioners  commented that the elections  will see completion only if the   vote counting resumes. “Elections will be possible only if we can come up with tear-proof ballot papers,” they quipped. 

Political parties have taken the Bharatpur election as a matter of prestige as the Maoist Center has fielded Renu Dahal, daughter of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, as its mayoral candidate for the metropolis after forging an electoral arrangement with the Nepali Congress.

Out of 29 wards in Bharatpur, the votes cast in 27 wards have already been counted. Counting of votes cast in ward numbers 19 and 20 has not been completed. Vote counting from ward 19 was about to be completed when the ballot-tearing incident took place.

Before the incident, the CPN-UML’s mayoral candidate, Devi Gyawali, was leading the poll by 733 votes. While Gyawali secured a total of 41,641 votes, Maoist Center candidate Renu Dahal was trailing  with 40,908 votes.

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