Time and space

Published On: July 23, 2017 12:54 AM NPT

At long last, the government has formed the constituency delineation commission, the constitutionally-mandated body responsible for reducing the 240 national (federal) electoral constituencies to 165 and for delineating the boundaries of 330 new constituencies for provincial elections. Although the commission comes a little late, its very existence is a huge step towards the provincial and federal elections, both of which must be held by the January 21, 2018 constitutional deadline. But therein also lies the catch. The commission has been given just 21 days to submit its final report to the government. This is not enough. The previous time such a task was undertaken, on the eve of the first Constituent Assembly election in 2008, it had taken nearly five months. So, in all likelihood, the deadline for the new commission could be extended, perhaps several times. In any case, the commission should not be put under undue pressure to deliver quick results, for drawing up electoral constituencies is a serious, painstaking task. Instead, the government should closely monitor the commission’s progress and ensure that it is provided with every kind of material and logistical support, as and when needed.   

But what the prime minister or the ruling parties, or any party for that matter, should refrain from is trying to somehow influence commission members. But that is also wishful thinking. Our powerful political leaders, especially those in the government, have long been known to try to gerrymander electoral constituencies in their favor. So, like it or not, there will be such efforts this time as well. It is thus the government’s responsibility to shield the members from such pressures. If they know that they have strong government backing, the commission members will also be able to better ward off external pressures. Another issue is regarding the commission’s recommendations. The constitution says that such recommendations cannot be challenged in a court of law. Also, since the commission is a constitutional body, its recommendations will ipso facto hold some weight. Yet it is by no means certain that all political forces will accept its demarcations. This is why the commission’s functioning needs to be transparent. But complete transparency can be bad as well. If certain political parties learn that the demarcations under discussion are not in their favor, they might then charge the commission with favoritism, thereby also undercutting its legitimacy. 

It will thus be a delicate balancing act for the five members of the commission led by former Supreme Court justice Kamal Narayan Das. They will be working under immense time and perhaps not a little political pressure. Prime Minister Deuba has asked them to work ‘night and day’ to prepare the final report by the July 30 deadline. Alas, such an important and by nature thorough task cannot be hurried, nor is such rush desirable. Rather than put unnecessary pressure on the commission, the political parties, for their part, would best help the cause of timely elections if they maintain a safe distance. Give it enough resources, monitor its progress, point out its shortcomings when necessary, but, pray, leave the commission alone. 


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