30 June - 6 July 2017 #865

Voting in the rain

Neel Kantha Uprety
This is not the first time Nepal is holding local elections in phases: the previous two local polls were also held in two rounds. But the gaps were short and the same election management team and electoral logistics from the first phase were used again, making it all cost-effective.

Fearing that the results of the first phase could sway voters in the second phase, the Election Commission (EC) had decided to hold local elections at one go. That was not a bad idea per se, but the EC was first forced by politicians to do it in two rounds, and then in three goes. Furthermore, the gaps are really long, which means candidates and voters in some provinces will have more time to prepare than other provinces. That is not fair from the electoral justice point of view and the EC was helpless.

Even worse, there is no certainty that the third phase of elections in Province 2 will even take place on 18 September. The Madhes-based alliance for which voting has been staggered for four times is pushing for an amendment to the constitution first. The government has not been able to address the Madhesi demand for amendments for two years: how can it suddenly solve this issue in the next couple of months?

Province 2 has one of the lowest human development indices, and a large proportion of marginalised castes and ethnicities. People there have been robbed of their rights to practice grassroots democracy and good governance. Even if voting happens in Province 2 after the rains, their elected local councils will get just four and a half years to deliver.

Mistakes have been made, and we have to prepare for the consequences. The constitution will be void if local, provincial and parliamentary elections are not completed before 21 January 2018. If we wait too long after the festivals, the mountains will be snowbound.

Delaying local polls will have a domino effect on the two other elections, since representatives of local and provincial councils will constitute the Electoral College that elects the Upper House of Federal Parliament. The third phase in mid-September doesn’t leave much time for provincial and parliamentary elections. We must have a firm timetable right away, and finish delineation of constituencies for provincial and federal elections as well as electoral laws for both levels of elections before the end of the monsoon. If we do run out of time, a way must be found to hold the provincial and parliamentary elections simultaneously. But it is important to declare provincial election vote count results before the results from parliamentary polls.

There can be just one ballot for both First Past the Post (FPTP) and the Proportional Representation (PR) race, and votes received by candidates of political parties in the FPTP system can be computed for the PR seats, saving time and money.

We are fast running out of time. Second-phase votes of civic polls must be counted quickly, and we have to work flat out through the monsoon season.

Read also:

'2 down, 1 to go', Editorial

Election in instalments, Om Astha Rai

21 January 2018, Editorial

Polling in the rain

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