March 20, 2017 12:45 AM NPT
The code of conduct that has been enforced ahead of the local election slated for May 14 is being egregiously flouted. Prime Minster Pushpa Kamal Dahal has already sanctioned around Rs 730 million, via the Ministry of Local Development, to be spent on various small projects in his home district of Chitwan. In fact, such non-budgeted spending is illegal even in normal times. The practice was proscribed after those in the government started openly misusing state resources to enrich their cronies. Dahal’s expense-by-fiat is clearly aimed at the future federal election which he intends to contest from what is currently Chitwan constituency number 5. Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara has also sanctioned Rs 660 million in non-budgetary expense for his home district of Rolpa. Likewise, former minister of local development, Hitraj Pandey, had managed to set aside Rs 520 million for Gorkha district before he made way for RPP’s Kamal Thapa, who succeeded him as local development minister. We are surprised that the Election Commission has been mum even though such expenditures have continued till well after the enforcement of the local election code of conduct. The commission has rather been busy with other unnecessary tasks.
For instance it recently deleted the words ‘monarchy’ and ‘Hindu state’ from the manifesto of RPP. Apparently, the inclusion of these agendas in the manifesto violates the commission’s code of conduct. It most certainly does not. In a democracy, political parties have the right to go to the people with the policies of their choosing. If RPP wants to seek public mandate with its agenda of restoration of monarchy and the Hindu state, it has every right to do so. We think it would be disastrous to revive these dead institutions, for it will be a direct contravention of the federal republican agenda that has been at the heart of all post-2006 democratic changes. But in a democratic polity people are the ultimate arbiters. If a political party promotes certain agendas peacefully and if these agendas don’t imperil the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, barring it from espousing these agendas would be unconstitutional—for it will represent a direct assault on freedom of expression. Why the commission decided to mess around with the RPP manifesto is anybody’s guess. But it is certainly not helpful when there already are many more credible hurdles to timely local election.
If it finds just mentioning of some concepts in a party’s manifesto objectionable, how can the commission overlook government expenses that are clearly aimed at influencing election? The commission has in fact been making questionable decisions since the announcement of the election date. For instance it delayed enforcing the code of conduct by a week, allowing the government to illegally transfer CDOs and high level police officers. And now it is overlooking the obvious misappropriation of state resources by ruling parties to influence future elections, while poking its nose where it has no business meddling. There will be a big question mark over the legitimacy of these elections if the commission is seen favoring some political parties, and certain ideologies, over others.