The election to the members of the House of Representatives and provincial assemblies is being held across Nepal in a single phase on Sunday. The Election Commission of Nepal (ECN) has announced that all necessary preparations including the security arrangements have been already completed. The election body has assured that a three-tier security system with adequate security personnel has been arranged in each polling station for the security of the elections. Additionally, reserve forces of security personnel have been kept on standby so that they can reach the polling station within 30 minutes. These measures are welcome steps towards holding the elections in a clean, fair, fearless, transparent and credible manner. But these arrangements alone do not seem enough.
Of course, the elections this time are being held in a relatively safe environment as compared to the previous elections. A section of political parties had boycotted the election and actively tried to foil the election process in 2017. Although no such organized political forces have announced to boycott the elections this time, there are some disturbing developments already observed in the past one week. For instance, a vehicle belonging to National Independent Party (NIP) candidate Rabi Lamichhane was vandalized in Chitwan by the rival party cadres on November 13. The incident, according to NIP cadres, took place in the presence of police personnel. On the next day, a vehicle belonging to Nepali Congress (NC) election candidate in Chitawan Umesh Shrestha was also vandalized. These incidents came in the wake of reports that campaigners of the CPN-UML candidate Abdus Miya were physically assaulted in Gorkha. Worse still, an improvised explosive device reportedly went off on Thursday when cadres belonging to the Netra Bikram Chand-led Maoist party in Nepalgunj were preparing to plant it in the city center in an apparent bid to create a sense of terror among the voters. The injured are reportedly receiving treatment under police supervision. Similarly, a suspicious object was found at the polling station of Yanglijung Basic School in Phungling Municipality-2 in Taplejung on Friday. These types of incidents not only dissuade the voters from casting their votes but also undermine the efforts of ECN to hold the polls in a free and fair manner.
These incidents clearly show that the elections also face huge security challenges when it comes to ensuring that all eligible voters feel secured to go to their nearest polling stations and cast their votes. As such, both the ECN and the government agencies concerned must work to avoid these types of activities to ensure integrity of the election. Unlike in the past elections, the government has decided to hold the election across the country in a single phase. This certainly has put pressure on security agencies to deploy an adequate number of security personnel to secure each polling station. This poses an additional challenge in light of the fact that there have been complaints of booth captures in a number polling stations in all previous elections. It is high time that the authorities concerned stepped up surveillance and scrutiny and took preemptive measures to foil any such attempts to rig or foil the elections. The onus to hold a free and fair election, however, not only lies on the ECN and security agencies. It is also equally important that all political parties, civil society bodies and voters also join hands with the ECN and security agencies to make the election free and fair.