Huge challenges ahead as EC gets historically short time for preparations

Published On: February 21, 2017 05:30 AM NPT By: Bhadra Sharma

-The EC gets only 83 days to complete all preparations
-Pandey-led taskforce to take seven more days
-Fixing polling stations and formulating election rules to take at least 15 days
-Deployment of election officials, other staffs in polling stations
-Printing of around 16,000 types of ballot papers may take nearly 2 months
-Transportation of ballot papers, other materials, logistics

KATHMANDU, Feb 21: With just 83 days left before the election date proposed by the government, it seems tremendously challenging for the Election Commission to carry out basic preparatory tasks essential to conduct upcoming local elections nationwide.

Officials with long experience on holding elections believed that the EC may have to work day and night to accomplish the task. The mandate to hold election within 83 days, according to experts on election affairs is probably a shortest time frame historically given to the commission. 

In 2008's CA election, the government had announced the date 109 days in advance while the EC was given 100 days for preparation for CA Election-II in 2013. 

"Obviously, it's challenging but we have accepted it. We are prepared and make it possible because the prime minister has assured us to provide all possible support to make it a success," Election Commissioner Ila Sharma told Republica.

Echoing Commissioner Sharma former Chief Election Commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety also acknowledged that that holding local elections within short span of time will prove a very difficult task.  "The task is challenging. I wish election commission will make it possible by utilizing its wisdom, expertise and commitment to work day and night to give a way out to the country," said Uprety. 

Though a cabinet meeting on Monday announced to hold polls on May 14, the government itself is further complicating the task. The cabinet meeting decided to give seven days more to the government-formed taskforce led by Minister Hitraj Pandey to come up with solutions on resolving disputes over number and boundaries of the local level units to be delineated under the new federal structure.

If the taskforce submits its report within the given time, then the EC will have 76 days to complete all poll preparations. The preparations include fixing of polling stations and their identification, finalizations of parties contesting in the elections and formulation of by-laws and regulations required to manage elections. Completing these preparations, according to election experts, will take minimum 15 days. 

"Fixing numbers and boundaries of local units may not complete in less than 15 days as it is a time consuming task," said Uprety. 

A district level committee, formed comprising District Election Officer and Chief District Officers among other representatives, fixes polling stations. Fixing polling stations and deployment of officials cannot happen unless government provides report of the Local Level Restructuring Commission to the election body. This task often gets complicated as local politicians may dispute over this task as fixing polling stations may have some impact in number of votes they receive.

Designing ballot paper is another important task for election which cannot happen in less than a week. By this time, the EC will have only 54 days available for printing ballot paper, ferrying them to polling stations in time. 

An assessment carried out by the EC has concluded that it might take at least 54 days to print the ballot papers for the local elections if additional printing machines are not arranged for Janak Sikshya Samagri Kendra (JSSK) while ferrying them to districts may take additional time. 

Till date, the state-run JSSK is printing ballot papers for the Election Commission.

Currently, the JSSK has three machines and the election body believes that printing the ballot papers may take nearly two months unless additional printing machines are arranged for it. 

Printing ballot papers, according to EC Spokesperson Surya Prasad Sharma, will take time as a large number of parties are registered with the commission. Currently, 110 parties are registered with the election body and officials believed that the ballot papers will be larger than three feet even if 45 parties contest in the elections. 

EC, which has already ruled out possibility of using Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) over controversy over its procurement bid, has to rely on the ballot papers. It has to print minimum 16,000 types of ballot papers based on the local units.  It has taken a one month to print ballot papers in previous 2013's CA elections when it had to print only 240 types of ballot papers. All together 14 million pieces of ballot papers for CA-II and it took one month to print it. 

"We have to manage additional machines and resources to complete preparations in time," said EC Spokespersons Sharma acknowledging the difficulties in managing logistics. 

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