Free the by-elections

Published On: October 16, 2019 01:30 AM NPT By: Deepak Joshi Pokhrel and Rajendra Senchurey

Soon after the end of the festive season, Nepal will be gripped under by-election fever for 51 different positions at local levels and provincial and federal parliaments pursuant to the decision taken by the government. The Election Commission has already submitted the details of administrative, financial and logistic requirements to the government which needs to be provided to the constitutional body for the facilitation and management of the impending biggest ever by-election of the nation. The political parties and their leaders who did not even revisit their constituency after the last election have woken up from the slumber and seem to intensify their efforts for the by-polls. The upcoming by-polls will be a litmus test for their popularity and acceptance among the people.

There is no gainsaying the fact that periodic election is the lifeline of a democracy. It provides massive space for citizenry to elect their representatives to govern them in democratic manner. Through this democratic exercise, the citizens own them on the basis of their potentialities to lead the nation in an appropriate way and at the same time unseat the leaders who fail to perform in accordance with public expectations. Furthermore, the election plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of the nation. In a nutshell, the democracy thrives if citizens take part actively in the election which is held in a free, fair and peaceful manner.

Foul play  
But of late, we often come across the news that elections were not held in a free, fair and peaceful manner. We also hear of polling booths being captured by an unidentified group taking the polling centre under their control and intimidating the voters to not cast their votes. Another such election fraud we have experienced massively in the past is vote rigging where the vote shares of the candidates favored used to be increased whereas those of the rivals were depressed. These kinds of activities have been the main cause for election violence in the past. A reflection on such past experiences has raised a concern on credibility and legitimacy of the upcoming election.

In addition to the anomalies mentioned above, we cannot afford to neglect the trade-off between the cadres of the parties and voters in and around the polling centers. It is regrettable to note that the voters are lured outside the polling centers and lavish parties thrown in exchange of their votes. It is also shame and disgusting to note that some voters are intimidated and threatened by the local goons and cadres of the parties. What astonishes one is that voters under the lure of bribe fail to elect the appropriate candidates who, after winning the election, do not work in line with their commitment made in the run-up to the election. This eventually turned into a cause for underdevelopment and poverty.

In any impoverished nation like ours, the periodic election is a boon for the local goons and thugs who operate clandestinely across the country. The election offers them a colossal space to reap the maximum mileage in terms of economic and other perks and incentives. In the run-up to the election, the local goons team up with local parties and their leaders ensuring that they will flex their muscles to frighten people to vote in favor of the parties which they are canvassing for. This is a glaring example of breach of election code of conduct. 

Over the years, especially post-constitution promulgation, the election has become an extravagant event. The news that we read and the events that have unfolded after the election clearly indicate that cost of election campaigning has increased by multifold.

Play by rules  
Viewed from this perspective, we find that the spending cap for campaign financing for one electoral constituency in the parliamentary election after the introduction of multiparty democracy was 65,000 rupees. But sadly, this figure had soared to 25, 00,000 rupees for the last federal election. What is not understandable is why the figure has risen up while the government has banned the publicity and promotional stuff materials like fliers and wall paintings for they disfigured city landscape. The Election Commission as a responsible body should ask the political parties and their leaders to provide strong justification mentioning why and how the election campaign-related expenses have increased so much.  

During the election, the Election Commission office-bearers were also alleged of carrying out monitoring visit whose usefulness could hardly be ascertained. They were also accused of conducting the needless voter’s education program that only attributed to affecting the state coffers. This is not to say that the Election Commission should not conduct monitoring visit and organize voter’s education program. It should be justifiable. Besides, it needs to be conscious that such activities do not turn into a futile exercise. 

The gross violation of election code of conduct is a major threat to a free, fair and peaceful election. It could jeopardize the integrity and eclipse the sanctity of the democratic exercise in the country. While the leaders of all hues have committed to abide by the election code of conduct time and again, it just remains their lip service. Many public intellectuals who have intimate knowledge on the election-related issues articulate the dire need to impose sanction on the parties which dare to breach the code of conduct. 

Ever since the Oli-led government came to power more than two years ago, it has been widely criticized for introducing many bills that aimed to curtail the rights of citizens, media and National Human Rights Commission. It has also been attacked for displaying the tendencies of an oligarchy. Now, it has the opportunity to redeem its disappeared goodwill by extending all support to the Election Commission for making the upcoming by-election a mega success. All eyes are now on Prime Minister KP Oli.

Pokhrel and Senchurey are conflict analysts

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