KATMANDU, Oct 29: With less than a month till the upcoming parliamentary and provincial assembly elections, voter education is yet to begin, raising fears that the invalid vote will be high once again
Election commissioners and other officials responsible for conducting voter education said they are currently busy conducting training for officials to be mobilized for educating votes on how to avoid mistakes in casting their ballots. As of now, officials supposed to be mobilized for voter education have not reached down to the village level. "We have just completed the MToT (Master Training of Trainers) in Kathmandu and the officials trained are busy organizing district-level training for social mobilizers," said Surya Aryal, chief of the Election Education Information Center (EEIC), a unit under the EC.
Concerned over the high invalid vote in the recent local elections, the EC wants to concentrate voter education in the urban areas. The invalid vote percentage was higher in urban areas compared to the villages. "Door to door campaigns turned out to be less effective in the urban areas during the local elections. So, we are planning a special campaign this time," said Aryal. Voters will be assembled in certain areas for the voter education, he added.
Election officials admit that they are already late in starting on the voter education. They blamed confusion which they attributed to the Supreme Court as the major reason behind the delay. "The recent court decision has put us in a fix over finalizing the voter education materials," said a senior official who wished to not to be identified.
The official also warned that the election body will not be able to spend the whole budget allotted for voter education due to the delay caused by the ballot paper row at the eleventh hour.
So far, the EC has not even completed training all the trainers who are to be deployed at the local level.
The EEIC plans to instruct voters through interactive voter education, installing of LED messages in the major towns, sending SMS and utilizing mainstream and social media, among other things.
EEIC chief Aryal said that trainers trained at the regional level will train district-level trainers who in turn will be mobilized to the villages. The EC, which has allotted more than Rs. 1 billion for voter education, plans to mobilize 19,809 trainers for the villages. Apart from paid trainers, the election body plans to mobilize local units, primary school teachers, female health workers and individuals to be hired by the district election officers, as voter educators in the villages.
EC officials said the voter education officials will be mobilized for a month starting November 2 for the first round of elections taking place in 37 election constituencies in 32 districts. Each individual mobilized for voter education will get Rs 15,000 as salary and additional interaction expanses.
The number of invalid votes in the local elections was said to be the highest ever. Some local units witnessed up to 21 percent invalid votes. An average of 21 percent invalid vote was recorded in Biratnagar while 17.11 percent of the vote was invalid in Kapilvastu Municipality and 22.62 percent in Krishnanagar Municipality.
The EC had spent Rs 750 million for voter education in the local elections. The EC has not made public the total number of invalid votes.