Political parties are gearing up for the May 13 local elections and busy selecting candidates for 753 local units across the country. Meanwhile, the Election Commission is also preparing. As the election date gets close, the past functioning of the local bodies is being evaluated and campaign spending is again under discussion. Kamal Dev Bhattarai talked to Ayodhi Prasad Yadav, the former chief election commissioner who successfully conducted the all three ties of elections in 2017.
What is your impression of the upcoming local elections?
This is a periodic election being held in line with the constitutional provisions. Even though there are contradictory provisions in the constitution and electoral laws, the Election Commission in the end decided to hold the polls before the expiry of the local governments’ term.
Holding elections in a timely manner would help institutionalize the new federal structure. People’s trust in federalism and republicanism will increase. The upcoming elections will further strengthen this political system.
How do you evaluate the first five years of local governments?
I recently visited some areas of Madhes and talked to common people. Frankly, they were not pleased with the performance of local representatives. Instead of focusing on public services, local representatives seem more interested in securing facilities and luxury for themselves.
In terms of resources, the local units are better equipped now than in the past. But this isn’t reflected in service delivery. There are many anomalies and problems in our society. The local governments haven’t been able to address them in a timely manner.
Most of them haven’t been able to meet the expectations of their local electorates. Some local bodies, however, were unable to work for a full five-year term, as the elections were held in multiple phases.
How can we improve the performance of local bodies?
Local governments have been heavily politicized, which has affected their work. To address this problem, we have to elect non-political representatives. Doing so will encourage independent candidates to enter politics. We can adopt a full proportional representation (PR) system in local governments. In many countries, local bodies have non-political representatives.
Political representation in local governments has led to poor public services and added economic burden. If a full PR system is adopted, we can address such problems. The first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system at the local level is creating a lot of problems.
What is the possibility of vote-rigging in local elections?
During the 2017 elections held under my leadership there were no reports of vote-rigging or fraud. There were some obstructions created by the Netra Bikram Chand-led group, and some political parties were also in protest. But we nonetheless managed to hold the elections in a fair manner.
But now, there is cut-throat competition. Candidate-selection process has become tough. This is because elected representatives get good facilities. More youths are active in politics as they want to get some positions in local bodies. So there is a high possibility of violence at some polling centers. Candidates have already started to influence voters and polling stations.
Elections have become expensive. How do we minimize electoral costs?
Candidates are spending a lot of money on campaigns. To address this issue, we have to remove the current FPTP system. If we adopt a PR system, it will help curtail election costs. The Election Commission has a ceiling for campaign expenditure. This means the state itself is encouraging parties and their candidates to spend money on election campaigns. Better remove the spending ceiling, which is unnecessary for a campaign that doesn’t last more than two weeks.
To bring change, we should create public awareness. I just returned from my village. There, the political parties and prospective candidates have already started organizing parties to woo voters. They are also distributing “fuel money” to the youths.
Another way of reducing election expenditure is by removing the provision of salary for local representatives.