Nearly 18m Nepalis will head to the polling stations this Sunday to elect their representatives to the federal parliament and provincial assemblies. These legislatures will then elect new prime ministers, president and chief ministers for the next five years.
Political parties and candidates are in the final leg of electioneering before the election silence takes effect, when campaigning in all forms is prohibited. Over the past few weeks, voters received a flood of candidates in their houses. It is up to the voters to decide the fate of the candidates, and, by extension, the fate of the country for the next five years.
The election silence is the period afforded to voters to think and decide, so that they can vote according to their own personal conscience, without any fear, influence or pressures.
But, if the past elections are anything to go by, our political parties do not seem to be committed to abide by the rule of election silence. They want to influence the voters through money, muscles and other means.
During the local elections held in May, some party candidates were caught red-handed distributing cash to voters. Poor and marginalized communities are often targeted by unscrupulous candidates. The phenomenon of vote buying is not just limited to far-flung areas. There have been reports of candidates distributing money to urban voters as well.
So, the next three days are a critical period when conscientious voters must remain on guard.
Election observation organizations can also play a vital role in this silent period. So far, their primary focus has only been on Election Day. But, they should also be closely monitoring the activities of political parties, particularly when the voting day is just a few days ahead. They should report the malpractices of parties and candidates. But this has not been happening.
Mainstream media too has a vital role to play to ensure free and fair elections. They must hold parties and candidates to account if they are found trying to influence the voters during the election silence period.
But above all, the onus rests on political parties and candidates themselves. They should uphold the election laws and act responsibly. They get enough time to campaign. It’s only fair that they allow people to vote without any pressure.