With shortest time ever for poll preparations, EC faces daunting task

Published On: February 21, 2017 08:04 AM NPT By: Bhadra Sharma

KATHMANDU, Feb 21: With just 83 days left before the election date proposed by the government, it will be hugely challenging for the Election Commission (EC) to carry out the basic preparatory tasks essential for conducting the upcoming local elections nationwide.

Officials with long experience of organizing elections believe the EC may have to work day and night to accomplish the tasks. The 83 days for holding the elections, according to experts, is probably the shortest timeframe the EC has ever had. 

In the 2008 CA election, the government had announced the poll date 109 days in advance, and the EC was given 100 days to prepare for second CA elections in 2013. 

“Obviously it’s challenging but we have accepted it. We are prepared and will make it possible as the prime minister has assured us all possible support to make it a success,” Election Commissioner Ila Sharma told Republica.

Echoing Sharma, former chief election commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety also acknowledged that holding local elections within such a short span of time will prove a very difficult task.  “The task is challenging. I wish the election commission will make it possible, utilizing all its wisdom, expertise and commitment and working day and night to give a way out for the country,” he said. 

Though a cabinet meeting on Monday announced that the polls are to be held on May 14, the government itself  has been further complicating matters. The cabinet meeting decided to give seven days more to the government-formed taskforce led by Minister Hitraj Pandey to come up with solutions to the disputes over the number and boundaries of  local level units to be delineated under the new federal structure.

If the taskforce submits its report within the given time, the EC will have 76 days to complete all the poll preparations. The preparations  required include  the fixing of polling stations and their identification, finalizations of the parties contesting  the elections and formulation of the by-laws and regulations required. Completing these preparations, according to election experts, will take a minimum of 15 days. 

“Fixing the number and boundaries of local units may not he completed in 15 days as it is a time consuming task,” said former EC chief Uprety. 

A district level committee comprising the District Election Officer, the Chief District Officer and others will fix the polling stations. Fixing polling stations and deployment of officials cannot happen unless the government provides the EC the report of the Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC). The picture gets more complicated as local politicians may dispute the fixing of polling stations, which may have some impact on their own vote prospects.

Designing the ballot papers is another important task and it cannot happen in less than a week. By that time, the EC will have only 54 days left for printing ballot papers and reaching them  to the polling stations. 

An assessment carried out by the EC has concluded that it might take at least 54 days to print the ballot papers for local polls if additional printing machines are not arranged for Janak Sikshya Samagri Kendra (JSSK). 

To date,  it is the state-run JSSK that has been printing ballot papers for the EC.

Currently, the JSSK has three machines and the election body believes  printing the ballot papers may take nearly two months unless additional printing machines are arranged . 
Printing ballot papers, according to EC Spokesperson Surya Prasad Sharma, will take time as a large number of parties are registered with the EC. Currently, 110 parties are registered and officials believe the ballot papers will be longer than three feet even if only 45 parties contest the elections. 

The EC has to print at least 16,000 types of ballot papers, depending on the number of local units.  It had taken a  month to print ballot papers in the 2013 CA elections when only 240 types of ballot papers were  needed. A total of14 million ballot papers were printed. 

“We have to manage additional machines and resources to complete the preparations in time,” said EC Spokesperson Sharma.

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