As the date for the local elections is closing in, all major political parties have started to plan accordingly. But, for small parties, things are not looking too bright as they still do not know what symbol the Election Commission will give them for the forthcoming election.
Section 26 of the Local Level Election Act, 2017, has the provision to hand out election symbols to all candidates in local elections. But, the act states that the symbols of their respective political parties will only be given to candidates belonging to “national parties” as defined by the Act on Political Parties.
It means the law is apparently discriminatory against small parties. In the run-up to the local elections, they are lobbying for the repeal of the rule. But, the commission says it is not its jurisdiction whereas big political parties that have the potential to change the law are keeping mum.
All animals are equal, but…
To be a national party, you have to do more than win an election. According to the act, a party has to win at least 3 per cent of votes in the proportional representation system from the entire country in the latest House of Representatives elections. In addition, they also need to win one seat in the House in the first-past-the-post system.
Therefore, despite the good work done by the candidate, if he/she is from a small party, he/she might not get the election symbol of the party they represent during the local elections.
Instead, they are given election symbols considering them independent candidates. In 2017, smaller parties under the stewardship of Baburam Bhattarai-led Naya Shakti had protested the law. But, their concerns were not heard. The issue is being raised again, but it is unlikely to make headway anytime soon.
Tied hands of the commission
Former chief election commissioner Bhoj Raj Pokharel says that the commission cannot do anything about this rule until the law is amended. He says that the commission is doing what the law tells it to do.
“It clearly states that the party symbol for the local elections is given only to national parties. The commission can’t do anything unless the house or these national parties decide to change it,” says Pokharel.
This is the case even if the party does well in the local elections. Even if the party wins a significant number of seats in the local constituencies, unless their presence is in the federal House, nothing changes for them. That is why representatives of only six parties in the country will get election symbols during the local elections this time.
When the provision about smaller parties needing a set number of votes was put in the law, a lot of smaller parties protested as they felt it was unfair. But, the big “national” parties did not care about the concerns of a few small parties as they felt that having fewer parties was important for the political stability of the country.
Following the 2017 local elections, it seemed small parties too accepted that idea, which is why they were not speaking about this much. But, they are dissatisfied about not getting an election symbol in the same manner how the national parties were getting them. Hence, they are raising the issue again ahead of the next polls.
Speaking at an all-party meeting on February 14, Prem Suwal, a parliamentarian from the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party, said the law was discriminatory although it was important to give smaller parties the same election symbols they were registered with.
Suwal is believed to have met Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand regularly to talk about this issue, but his concerns are nowhere near to being addressed, he says.
“The laws that these major parties made are discriminating against us. Because they like dominating us, why would they want to change the law,” he questioned after the meeting.
CPN-UML’s Bishnu Rimal, however, says that talks are ongoing about this. This issue has been discussed in the presence of major political leaders like Sher Bahadur Deuba, KP Sharma Oli, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal. But, these leaders said that it would be wrong to go against the law.
But, senior advocate Radhe Shyam Adhikari says these things should not be an issue if the commission is careful and alert while distributing symbols for the next local elections.
“The commission should not make mistakes when it comes to parties that regularly contest these elections. The Nepal Workers and Peasants Party should be given its regular symbol of the madal,” he says. “Even though the law is strict, the commission can be smarter.”
Rimal says that his party is willing to accept whatever the Election Commission does.
“The effort to amend the law should begin from the commission itself. The commission has not come to us to discuss this matter,” he says.