KRISHNA SAPKOTA, KATHMANDU, May 20: Finally the first phase of civic polls – first-ever election after the promulgation of the new Constitution – has been held amidst uncertainties and unwelcoming predictions.
The local level elections in the provinces no. 3, 4 and 6 were held on May 14 with enthusiastic participation of a significant number of voters. The election provided the people an unprecedented opportunity to exercise their franchise to elect their representatives and form their governments almost after a hiatus of around two decades. The election – which is expected to herald a new political journey ending the protracted transition – was held in a free, fair and transparent manner despite trivial incidents and technicalities.
The overall electoral management of the Election Commission (EC) such as voters’ enrollment, staff management and deployment, political parties’ registration, code of conduct and ballot paper printing was apparently found satisfactory. However, preparation of voters’ list, monitoring of code of conduct compliance, voters ID card distribution, quality of ballot papers and vote counting management witnessed shortcomings which drew flak from different quarters.
Another important component of this election receiving less attention due to short preparation time was voters’ education which created confusion among a large number of voters of how to cast a ballot. It was also because the ballot paper this time was confusing mainly due to the insertion of two election symbols of the contestant parties in the final box of the paper on row. Resultantly, it has increased the numbers of invalid votes which could in the long run pose a challenge to fair elections.
During the election observation, the general voters were found sensing positive security environment with the arrangement of a three-tier security mechanism as in previous elections. However, despite well-placed security alerts, dozens of untoward incidents took place in different places. So far, four people lost their lives and dozens sustained injuries in such violent and criminal activities. The incidents of clashes, vandalism, explosions and abduction of candidates were also recorded during the election. Among the remarkable are attempt to loot ballot boxes and killing of a candidate in subsequent firing in Kalikot and murder of three persons during violent clash in Kavre and Dolakha. “Though the overall security arrangement was satisfactory, the security intelligence which is quite important to gauge the security sensitivity was weak. It resulted in the occurrence of such activities in different districts”, said General Election Observation Committee (GEOC) Chairperson Himalaya Shumsher Rana amidst a post-election programme in the capital.
During the vote day, the arrangement of logistics was found effective. “All the necessary electoral materials were found transported and stored in most of the polling centres with high security alerts. However, the sporadic incidents of loot of sensitive polling materials and vandalism occurred in some polling centres”, according to a preliminary election review report published by the election observation organizations.
Generally, the queue of voters were found well-managed with separate row for male and female votes, including special arrangements for senior citizens, people with disabilities, patients and pregnant women. The mobilization and placement of EC employees and political parties’ volunteers was also seen satisfactory. “However, the coordination gap was visible in some of the polling centres because of inadequate training and uniformed directives”, shared Hasta Gurung, a national observer of GEOC.
Nevertheless, in many instances, the all-party mechanism was found active in facilitating the EC employees in taking decisions to avoid possible disputes. There were reports that voters had reached the polling centres on time and cast their votes in a free and fair manner. They reported that the polling officers had allowed people registered in the voters’ list to cast votes with any national ID cards such as citizenship certificate, passport and land ownership certificate even if they unable to get their voter ID cards. The media representatives and election observers were not obstructed to monitor election in all the processes excluding vote count.
Keeping in mind the difficulty in casting vote, the EC in collaboration with other stakeholders such as non-government organizations, media, professional associations and networks should devise voters’ education drive effectively. The current design of ballot paper should be changed into a voter-friendly format so that there would be no confusion and difficulty for mass voters to cast ballots. As the election process was found complicated, time-taking and expensive, the concerned authorities and stakeholders should also moot alternative applied polling process such as use of electronic voting machines to avoid the problems.
Despite sporadic incidents of violence and obstruction, the first phase of civic poll was largely peaceful, free and fair. It would certainly prove to become a stepping stone to take the country towards a positive direction by paving way for the implementation of the constitution.
With the election, the local levels will be exercising constitutionally bestowed different 22 rights which create umpteen opportunity to harness local resources to develop prosperous municipalities and rural municipalities. Hence, it should be allowed to be capitalized to pave the way for overall national prosperity, where we all win and no one loses. RSS