As the government is reportedly preparing to announce the local elections, how is the Election Commission readying itself for the polls?
The EC is ready to hold the elections at any time. We have already held several rounds of talks with political parties in this regard. We met prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and briefed him about the state of the election preparations for the forthcoming polls. I also had the opportunity to personally meet the prime minister and brief him about the work. The Chief Election Commissioner personally met prime minister Dahal twice. The EC’s team has already met the prime minister four times in the last fifteen days to apprise him of the situation. Prime minister Dahal has directed us to complete work to hold polls for all the tiers of government by January 2018. Prime minister Dahal has directed us to be ready to hold the elections at the local level before the end of May 2017. We are now internally doing the necessary homework.
So far as the acts and regulations are concerned, the Legislature Parliament has already passed three acts related to elections and two other acts are at the final stages of consideration at the State Affairs Committee of the Legislature Parliament.
Of foremost importance to hold the elections is the implementation of the report of Local Body Restructuring Commission. The second important aspect is the announcement of the polls date by the government. Out of five laws required by the Commission, three have already been passed and two are in the pipeline. The EC has been working on logistic management issues, like preparing the final voter lists, electoral education, printing of ballot papers, preparing voter ID cards and holding meetings with the political parties to conduct the elections on dates announced by the government.
We have been constantly working on these five important issues. We are watching very carefully for the announcement of elections date and we are in the final stages, ready to mobilize the elections officials soon after the announcement. In between, the EC has already held a meeting with secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs and chiefs of security organizations. The EC also held discussions with CEO of National Reconstruction Authority, secretary at the Ministry of Education and Local Development and Federal Affairs regarding their support in technical and management aspects to the polls. All these state institutions are involved in one or the other in the election management.
Political parties are the main stakeholders of elections. We have already held several rounds of talks with them for confidence building. Under Article 269 of the constitution, we invited leaders of political parties twice and discussed the importance of the article. As per the article, 111 political parties registered with us for organizational provisions. The present constitution has two provisions in the constitution for the political parties. The parties have to register again under Article 269 for the election purposes. We discussed with the political parties and the results are very positive. We are also actively involved in updating the numbers of political parties in the districts. The EC is now working for the preparation of elections. Once the election date is announced, it will accelerate the process of preparing the elections calendar from day one to till the last day.
How many voters are there?
I cannot say the exact number of voters at present. There were 121 million voters in the last election. Our initial estimate shows that there will be between 136 and 140 million voters for the coming elections.
What are the five required to hold the local level elections?
The five acts include Voters List Related Act, Election Commission Act, Political Parties Related Act, Elections Offence and Punishment Act and Local Level Elections Related Act. Out of them, the Elections Commission Related Act, Voters List Related Act and Election Offence and Punishment Act have already been sent to the president for authentication. Two acts are under the consideration of the Legislature Parliament. Given the importance of the act, the Legislature Parliament is likely to pass the Political Parties and Local Elections related acts within a few days. There are disputes among the political parties over the thresholds and patterns of elections, on whether elections shall be held on political or non-political bases, regarding public funding and number of signatures of voters. Local Bodies Act is important for us as it decides the type of ballot paper. Political parties are close to some consensus. After promulgation of these five acts, we need five regulations and directions. The EC is working side by side on these regulations and guidelines. Our law division has already been mobilized for this.
Will these five acts be enough to hold the provincial and national elections?
For provincial level elections, we need separate acts. We have already initiated the drafting of the bill and we have to give it the final touches. We also need the House of Representatives Elections Act and National Assembly Elections Act. We have already discussed the House of Representative Bill with the stakeholders and it is in the process of finalization. However, we are yet to draft the act related to Referendum. Out of eight acts required to hold the elections, we have already prepared five acts and three are under the process.
All 75 elections offices and Coordination Committees under the Chief District Officer are now actively working to create conducive environment for forthcoming elections. The district level elections management committees are currently working to update the voters list. The EC has already finalized voters list of 21 districts and remaining work will be finalized soon. We are now updating the voters list in 54 districts. All work on the voters list collection will be completed by middle of February. We are mobilizing 37,000 employees now, including all CDOs, LDOs, secretaries of VDCs and others are involved in voter list collections and updating process. Political parties are supporting the EC’s process.
What about the permanent voter ID card?
We are working now to provide the permanent voter ID card. Instead of issuing temporary type of ID, this will be permanent like Citizenship Certificate cards. We are now making technical specifications. We will finalize the specification soon.
How much budget do you require for the local elections?
The budget will depend upon the number of political parties and size of the ballot papers. The budget will be determined by whether we use manual system or EBM. If we use EBM, the EC will require almost 50 billion rupees. It will be the first time investment. We will have 21000 polling stations and each EBM costs about 2000 dollars. It will cost 42 billion rupees just for machines and there will also be the need of money for voter education and so on. We are still studying this alternative. We may go for piloting in the first phase in areas like Kathmandu. If we go manually, the EC will require about 13 billion rupees, except the security spending. For EBM, we need a huge amount of money. Roughly, we will require up to 15 billion rupees.
Have you talked these issues with bilateral donors?
As soon as the government announces the elections date, we can hold meetings with the donor communities. However, we have been meeting with our major partners, UNDP, IPP and IDEA International regularly. We will hold discussions with bilateral donors like JICA, KOICA, Indian Embassy and Chinese Embassy later as they have been supporting us for a long time.
How do you look at the aspects of election administration?
The elections administration is determined by three or four factors. If there is an environment for periodic elections, the commission can work for service delivery. The announcement of elections is still made by the government so there is no guarantee of periodic elections. As the cabinet secretariat is a liaison of all other constitutional bodies, the EC’s liaison is the Ministry of Home Affairs. Psychologically, we are not well. There is the need to have a stronger elections commission. This is my first office, as I had spent all my career as a development administrator. I think the EC is also a major part of development administration. I agree with the point mentioned by US ambassador to Nepal Alaina B. Teplitz in her article published on the day of US presidential elections that the election is the entry point of all the agenda. As an entry point, there is the need of a strong Election Commission to guarantee free and fair periodic elections.
Statute Change Must Before Polls: Mahato
As there are growing disputes between the government and Samyukta Loktantrik Madheshi Morcha over the constitution amendment or local elections, RAJENDRA MAHATO, President of Sadbhavana Party, spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on various issues regarding the political course. Excerpts:
As prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is reportedly preparing to hold the local election before the amendment of the constitution, how do you look at this?
We have already made it clear that the local election is not acceptable to us without amending the constitution first. We cannot leave the amendment proposal for the local body elections.
If prime minister Dahal announced the elections on the pressure of his ruling alliance Nepali Congress and main opposition CPN-UML, what will be your response?
If prime minister Dahal announces the election without our consent, the election will be nothing more than a bogus exercise. We have already told the prime minister that any election without the amendment of the constitution is unacceptable to us. This is bottom line. First and foremost is the amendment of constitution as a large number of people are in agitation for the amendment of the constitution rather than the election. The demand of the agitating forces should be addressed before taking any decision. We wish that the elections be held only after the amendment of the constitution as desired by the people. SLMM has already announced a protest program to burn the report presented by Local Bodies Restructuring Commission. We will hold rallies and burn the report on February 5. The report allocated just one fourth of the position to an area which has 51 percent of population. Our demonstration will be just symbolic.
Is not it possible to use election as a plank for agitation?
I don’t think any election can address the agenda of change. No election has brought any major tangible change in any country and Nepal is no exception. The role of election is to institutionalize the change brought from streets. It is unfortunate that the present constitution has failed to institutionalize the change coming from street agitations. The present constitution was promulgated by misusing the agenda of the people. The way the CA promulgated the present constitution showed that the election alone is not enough to fulfill the agenda of people. Local bodies are development units and it is wrong to expect political agenda from them. The elections are contested in the local bodies on the basis of development, not on the basis of political agenda of Madheshis, Tharus and Janjatis.
As the government is planning to announce the elections date, don’t you think that the people will look at you as anti-democratic in opposing the election?
First of all, there is the need to clearly define who do you mean by people? If the people mean the people who promulgated the constitution by undermining the voices of the majority of people, people know who are with us. When we are demanding rights, we are blamed as disintegrative forces or anti-democratic. We don’t care about this. The election agenda is UML’s agenda. If this government follows the UML’s agenda, there is no sense to continue the alliance with Nepali Congress and Maoist Center.
The leaders of the two ruling parties, Nepali Congress and Maoist Center, have expressed their determination to hold the local elections at any time. How do you take this?
If they don’t listen to our suggestion and announce the elections on their own, we don’t have any option other than to go to the people and take a decision, whatever we can do. One thing is certain that the country will see another bloodbath if they go for elections by rejecting our voices. Three parties announced the constitution, killing the people in terai, and we cannot rule out the same situation in the coming days also. The local bodies election is possible only after the amendment of the constitution, accommodating our seven-point demands like citizenship, boundary of provinces, right of naturalized citizens, structure of local bodies and rights of provinces and inclusion.
How do you see the inclusion process?
We don’t want inclusion as in the case of the recently appointed judges of high courts. Although we oppose even the current basis of provinces and high courts, you can see how the judges are appointed without the proper representation of Madheshis, Janjatis, Dalit and Women.
As you said the local bodies are development units, why is there the need of your opposition then?
As you know we have been opposing the very foundation of the local bodies in the present constitution. One of our demands is to amend the provision related to local bodies. This constitution has made the local bodies more powerful than the provinces. The present set up of the local bodies is against the spirit of federalism. It is unacceptable for us. When we are opposing the very basics of the local body related article in the constitution, how can ruling parties expect our support? It is useless to talk on the issue anymore.
What do you suggest for the prime minister to do now?
The prime minister should work how to pass the amendment bill. We have already told him that there is the need to rewrite the amendment bill registered in the Legislature Parliament.
As the three parties have already passed the necessary five acts to hold the elections, how do you respond in case the elections are actually announced?
On the basis of the strength of two thirds, three parties, Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Maoist Center, have already promulgated the constitution, putting the country into a chaos. If they follow a similar path and announce the elections, we have only option left, that is, to go to the people and oppose the elections. We can humbly request them not to do this. Since they are in power, it is up to them to decide what is going to be right and what is going to be wrong.
What will be your future course?
We still believe that the present coalition will work to amend the constitution by rewriting the present proposal as per the wishes of the Madheshi parties. Prime minister Dahal will not take a foolish decision in announcing the local bodies election without our consent.
How was your meeting with the two ruling parties?
We have frankly put our points before them. We told them about the need for the amendment of constitution with necessary change in the current amendment proposal. No elections are possible without the amendment. This is the bottom line.