March 25, 2017 12:35 AM NPT
Voter education drive
The Election Commission has been guilty of many errors of omission and commission since the Pushpa Kamal Dahal government announced local election on February 20. It mysteriously
decided to delay imposition of election code of conduct till a week after the announcement,
thereby allowing the political parties in government to transfer CDOs and top police officers, with a clear intent of influencing the election. Its commissioners have also been eerily quiet even as ministers have illegally allocated millions of rupees in development funds to their home
districts, again in violation of the code of conduct. But it is hard to fault the commission for its
failure to properly educate prospective voters on how they can navigate the rather lengthy ballot paper for local election. The voters this time will have to stamp the same paper in as many as
seven different places, which they have never done before. Since it has been nearly two decades since the last local election was held in 1997, they are likely to be even more confused. In the last CA polls in 2013, five percent of the total votes cast were invalidated, even though voters only had to stamp two separate ballot papers, once each.
In 2013, the commission had conducted the public education campaign for two months; and still there were so many errors. This time, to educate prospective voters about the far more complicated ballot papers for local election, the commission has just a month. This is because from the date of announcement of election, it had been given only 82 days to prepare for local election, the shortest time given to the commission to prepare for any election since the restoration of democracy in 1990.
There is thus a realistic possibility that there will be even more invalid votes this time. Mistakes in balloting due to lack of knowledge are, in a way, tantamount to disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of Nepalis. But although it may not now be possible to adequately inform all Nepalis, there is still enough time to ensure that voting errors are significantly reduced. Radios (and the mobile phones they are built into) are still the most effective means to convey a message of public importance to maximum number of Nepalis, and in every part of the country. So community radios and FM stations should be at the heart of the election education campaign.
Facebook and Twitter campaigns that the commission is currently undertaking are less
useful. Most social media users will already know how to vote; even if they don’t, they will know where to learn the seemingly simple skill. On the other hand, most of the millions of regular listeners of news items over FM radios tend to rely much more on their speakers and earpieces to keep them
informed. Also, radio listeners, on average, are less educated than users of social media. And it is
precisely this group that the commission should target in order to cut down on the number of invalid votes. The election commissioners no doubt know this. The challenge now is to develop radio material that is at once catchy and informative. Expect the ever-green MaHa jodi to once again rule airwaves in the lead up to May 14.