It is strange that even though the government says it is committed to holding both provincial and federal elections on November 26, the vital tasks of constituency delimitation and drafting of election-related laws have been needlessly delayed. The Election Commission has already said that it cannot prepare for elections without relevant laws. But with just three months to go for the all-important twin elections, there does not seem to be any sense of urgency. The commission had wanted to hold these elections in two phases, the first phase up in the hilly regions and the second phase in the regions farther down. The commission had said that it would struggle to print enough ballot papers for all of Nepal, all at once. But the government, nonetheless, decided that the elections would be held in one go. Since there is only five months to go to the January 21, 2018 constitutional deadline for the completion of all elections, the government decided that it would be dangerous to put off elections any longer and thereby risk a serious constitutional crisis. This was the right thinking. We believe the Election Commission is more than capable of holding two elections at once—but only if the government fully supports it.
It is true that until recently the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal had been unclear about its poll participation, which in turn had fueled suspicions over timely elections. But this was a purely political issue. It should in no way have affected the tasks of drafting electoral laws and finalizing constituencies. Now it is getting rather late. Constituency delimitation for provincial and federal elections is, by its very nature, a complicated and time-consuming task. Even if there are no protests over these new boundaries—and past instances suggest there could be plenty—it could take at least a couple of months to complete. There are many thorny issues to be settled. For instance, how do those involved in drawing up boundaries decide on the number of electoral constituencies in Province 2 (small in area but huge in terms of population) and Province 6 (huge in size but small in population)? Such deliberations should have taken place much-much earlier, and with widespread participation of local stakeholders. But now as the time is short, the government will once again have to resort to fast-track methods to settle such an important issue, a sure recipe for disputes for years to come.
The commission needs all the help it can get. But our parliamentarians and ministers have been far from cooperative. Apparently, one reason why there has been such a long delay over electoral laws is owing to a dispute that has arisen as Nepali Congress wants to reduce the time a person convicted of corruption should be barred from contesting election, from the current 10 years to three years (starting from the end of their jail term). The intent is clearly to get the likes of influential but thoroughly corrupt leaders like Khum Bahadur Khadka and Chiranjiwi Wagle back into the electoral fray. It is disappointing that the largest parliamentary party is holding up vital electoral laws for such selfish reasons. Congress and its prime minister are doing themselves great disservice through these acts of self-sabotage this election season.