Election expert Neel Kantha Uprety was CEC during the of the second Constituent Assembly elections in 2013. As the country prepares for local level elections after 20 years, Uprety suggests that the polls be held in two or three phases. In particular, he is in favour of postponing the elections in provinces 1 and 2.
Onlinekhabar talked with Uprety about the elections and his suggestions to the government. Translated excerpts:
Drawing from your extensive experience in managing elections, do you think elections are possible on May 14? What has your impression been about the preparations?
I think the government compelled the Election Commission to hold the polls on a single date and gave it a very short time to prepare. The elections are going to form 744 governments at the local level and the exercise would require an extensive mobilisation of resources. As the structure itself is new, the government should have given the commission the option to hold the elections in phases.
The government should have decided the date for the first phase and the entrusted the Commission to schedule the second or the third phases. But, it just imposed a unilateral decision on the constitutional body without consulting it,
The government should have first created a poll-conducive environment. But, sadly, no such environment has been created till now and it will pose a challenge to the Commission. While the elections are just a month away, voters have not been educated on the poll procedures yet.
So do you think the elections are possible?
The major political challenge will be to conduct elections in Province 2. Both the people and parties there want elections, but some of the parties based there have put forth some political demands. The government should address their concerns. If the government thinks that the negotiations may take time, the polls should be held in two phases.
The elections in provinces 1 and 2 can at least be postponed while they can be held on May 14 in rest the rest of the provinces. It will also make managing election easier. It’s not yet later to decide. The Commission should be allowed to hold the second round of elections on May 30 or June 4. The Commission should be given freedom to hold polls on the date it sets by gauging its won capabilities.
The polls are just a month away, but the voters do not know how the ballot paper looks like. Will not it increase the number of invalid votes?
Leave the voters aside, the candidates themselves are also not clear about the voting process. Aspiring candidates have not understood the positions which they are competing for, and responsibilities that come with it.
The time allotted for candidates to rally support is also not sufficient. As we have been promoting inclusive politics, we should have inspired members of the dalit, janajati and the marginalised communities to field their candidates. Likewise, the Commission should have encouraged the youth to file candidacy as the local polls are an opportunity for them to lead. The Commission should have been given time for this.
I fear the elections will be held under this confusion and it will prove to be a blunder. Important issues have been ignored.
So are you suggesting that the number of invalid votes will go up due to lack of voters’ education?
In general, Nepalis know how to cast their votes. But, almost 9 million voters are taking part in this election for the first time. On the other hand, a single voter has to vote for seven persons. The numbers will increase the risk of invalid votes.
Voters are not clear on how to ensure that their votes are valid. If they are sent to cast votes without the knowledge of due procedures, they are likely to turn restless at election booths and cast invalid votes. Hence, the voters’ education campaign should be launched extensively.
The Commission should strive not to let any single vote become invalid. In a democracy, the invalidity of a single vote is a big loss.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Madheshi Morcha have been demanding that the voters’ list be updated in Province 2. Do you think it is possible anyway?
This is not possible now. It should have been done much earlier. Neither the government nor the Election Commission can make changes to the voters’ list now.
Do you think that will be possible if the government decides to conduct elections phases?
No. Demanding that the list be updated is just a pretext to stall the elections. Only those already listed by the Commission can cast their votes in this election. If you get stuck with this impossible demand, no election will take place.
What are major challenges of the Election Commission for the May 14 polls?
The major challenge would be to delivering ballot papers and ballot boxes to the local levels on time. The other challenge would be to ensure that officials poll officials are impartial and they count votes and publish the results on time.
Assuring security to the candidates and the voters is also equally challenging. Every voter should feel safe enough to cast votes.; and every candidate should be free from any kind of fear. The Commission should also pay attention to the implementation of the election code of conduct.
There are reports of poll code being violated. Do you think the Commission is strictly implementing it?
I am currently in Chitwan and I do not see the code being implemented here. The election code of conduct is very significant for fair polls and the Election Commission should be serious about its implementation.
As a voter, how confident are you that the upcoming polls will be fair, peaceful and rigging-free?
This question is about our culture and conduct. We want to win the elections by hook or by crook. Here, we have a bad practice of winning people’s votes, not with agendas, but with money. I am not sure that such practices will not recur this time.
Finally, what should a voter know before the polls?
They should know why they are casting votes, what happens if they do not do it, how many representatives are going to be elected and what they will do for people tomorrow. It is obvious that they should know the election symbols of the candidates they want to back.
Published on April 6th, Thursday, 2017 10:07 AM