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Fresh faces

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

The next general election is up for grabs to anyone who can guarantee integrity, vision and good governance

At last it looks like the top leaders of the main parties have agreed to agree. In public, they all say they all want elections, but who knows what they really want?

All this week, while a task force was meeting in Kathmandu to iron out the details of the constitutional and logistical provisions for elections, the top leaders fanned out across the country addressing supporters and accusing each other of trying to sabotage elections. In a sense, the speeches were campaign-style tirades. The parties are already in campaign mode.

Whatever the outcome of the Supreme Court verdict on the writ petition challenging the legality of the U-Maoist proposal to make Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi the head of an election government, the question is not ‘if’ there will be elections, but ‘when’. June is out of the question, even November is looking iffy given the hemming and hawing from party leaders, so May 2014 may be a safe bet.

But none of the parties want Regmi to be at the helm for too long. The Maoist-Madhesi coalition led the most corrupt government in Nepal’s democratic history, and they have amassed a commendable war-chest to finance an election win, but this ill-gotten hoard will deplete the longer they are out of power. The opposition is underfunded for polls, especially if it gets really dirty.

Whenever they decide to face voters, all parties will be desperate for a win, which makes it all the more important to have the mechanisms in place, the rules laid out and agreed, the laws passed. This is a formidable task, and renewing voter lists, demarcating constituencies that reflect new population densities, and requiring photo IDs for voters are questions with deep political ramifications. There is also a strong case to have local elections in June or November, preceding general elections.

But the first order of business is to have a whole Election Commission, and the easiest thing to do would be to re-commission commissioners who were retired earlier this year. Voter registration efforts need to go into top gear. Not only does it have to keep pace with population growth to include those who have grown up to voting age since 2008, women voters as well as those from excluded communities need to be given IDs. For this, all those eligible for citizenship should have citizenship papers. It is a gross violation of human rights to disenfranchise Nepalis currently stateless just because their Nepali fathers are missing. Provisions have to be made for absentee voting by the nearly 3 million Nepalis outside Nepal.

The integrity of the voting process itself needs to be ensured: minimising cheating, booth-capturing, vote-buying, intimidation, violations of the election code that were rampant in 2008. In their hurry to get the elections over and done with, international observers prematurely declared those polls free and fair. The Maoists would probably have won anyway, but by a much smaller margin had the voting been cleaner.

We can’t afford a flawed election this time, when the conditions are, if anything, more difficult. The Annual Himalmedia Public Opinion Poll that are conducted annually sampling more than 4,000 respondents all over the country shows this year that there is huge disillusionment with the political parties.

This year’s opinion poll results which will be carried on Sunday’s edition of Himal Khabarpatrika and next Friday’s issue of this newspaper indicate the popularity ratings of all political leaders have all fallen to the single digits and are too close to call. The proportion of those who either didn’t know or hadn’t decided has exceeded 40 per cent.
The next general elections is up for grabs to any political party that can show it has integrity, vision and the managerial skills to guarantee good governance — even a completely new party with fresh faces.

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One Response to “Fresh faces”

  1. Werner Meyer on Says:

    Thank you Kunda Dixit for providing an excellent summary of basic conditions with a realistic time frame, and a vision of requirements including good governance, integrity and governing leadership skills, which almost all politicians speak of during elections, but seem to forget as soon as they are in power.

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