15-21 December 2017 #888

Electoral reform

Bhojraj Pokharel

Nepal recently held three elections with overwhelming participation of voters. We have made remarkable improvements in recent years in overall management and in making elected bodies more inclusive. Compared to the past, campaigning is now more peaceful and biometrics and digitalisation have been introduced in voter registration.

However, we need to take some further steps to improve the electoral process and strengthen democracy. Political parties can still easily manipulate the current electoral system, which creates confusion among voters. The process has to be made more voter-friendly and less prone to manipulation by the political leadership.

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The Election Commission (EC) didn’t have adequate time to educate the people, so we need to provide civic education, make voters’ education a continuous process and design separate ballot papers to reduce the number of invalid papers in the future.

More than 4.4 million people are working in foreign countries. We need to fix election dates in the Constitution so that everyone can enjoy voting rights. Doing so will allow people working or studying abroad to come to Nepal to vote. And with an early voting system they would have enough time to travel to Nepal to cast their ballots. It is even possible to allow Nepalis living abroad to vote.

A lot of Nepalis cannot vote even they are living within the country because of the need to travel to the home district. We must improve the electoral system so that people can vote from where they are temporalily living or working inside the country. Early voting and allowing public transport on the day of election will make it easier for people to exercise their voting rights. Election Day should be like any other day and voters must have accessibility.

Fixing the election date in the Constitution will make planning and management cost effective and easier for the government, the EC, political parties and the voters. It is also time we devolved voter registration and election-related logistics management to the local governments. Doing so will help the EC to stay more focused on policy, planning, capacity-building, overall supervision and monitoring aspects of the election.

Voting has been made too expensive for the government and the candidates. The influence of money challenges the quality of representation. Political parties must be publicly funded to increase their efficiency and transparency.

All castes, communities and regions were included in the Constitution-drafting process through proportional representation. We need to retain this voting system in the next election as well to help excluded communities to enjoy equal rights.

Bhojraj Pokharel is a former Chief Election Commissioner.

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