Both the government and the Election Commission are failing in their duties to ensure that the federal and provincial elections, scheduled for two phases on November 26 and December 7, are free and fair. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has instructed the Election Commission to put off publishing its full election calendar for the first phase. The ruling parties are apparently unhappy about the commission’s decision to ask for a closed list of Proportional Representation candidates before the parties submit the list of FPTP candidates. These parties fear that submitting a closed list will discourage PR candidates who find themselves low down the list and these candidates could, in turn, try to sabotage individual parties’ election preparations. But there is also a more sinister motive behind the parties’ reluctance on closed lists. What we have seen in the past is that with an open PR list there is a great deal of financial bargaining, with the use of all kinds of dirty pressure tactics, to try to get elected from the list—and hence the need for closed PR lists.
It is disheartening that our big political parties are ready to bend election rules to suit themselves, thereby undercutting the legitimacy of periodic elections. Yes, closed lists will present them with some management problems, but these are not the problems established democratic forces cannot deal with if their leaderships are committed to clean elections. So that is where the ruling coalition gets it so badly wrong. But the pusillanimity of our election commissioners is even more troubling. The one and only duty of the Election Commission is to ensure free and fair elections, by minimizing the use of money and muscle to influence them. But when the commission obediently follows all orders from the ruling parties, and even allows these parties the leeway to wantonly violate election code of conduct, there is a serious question mark over the commission’s role as a neutral arbiter of elections. If the commission cannot stamp its authority when certain political parties are trying to tweak election rules to their advantage, why do we need a separate, independent commission at all? The government can then itself conduct these elections by deploying its officials.
Even in the past, for instance, during the first and second CA elections, the ruling parties tried to influence elections. But thanks to chief election commissioners like Bhojraj Pokharel and Neel Kantha Uprety, both of whom were skillful political operatives but both also capable of drawing red lines, the two crucial CA elections got the stamps of approval of domestic and foreign election observers alike. But in current form, the reigning chief election commissioner, Ayodhee Prasad Yadav, we are afraid, will go down in history as one of the most ineffective and politically pliable chief commissioners. More worryingly, results of the elections that he conducts could be suspect, which in turn will be a devastating blow to the all-important task of implementing the new constitution. If they want to salvage their legacy, Yadav and his other commissioners should show some spine.