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Nepal’s election culture and its ills

Ram Dayal Rakesh

Ram Dayal Rakesh

Nepal’s election culture and its ills

Elections are the backbone of democracy. Local elections are essential for the grassroots democracy for electing people’s representatives to govern local governments. 

After the promulgation of a new constitution in 2015, Nepal has held two local elections. These periodic polls were the hallmark of democracy of the young federal republic. Timely elections are the lifeline of democracy. The Election Commission (EC) has not been arranging after polls monitoring of the elections for a long time.

It is a matter of great concern that some candidates do not maintain code of conduct during and after elections. Most of the candidates do not care for it because it is ritualistic and less realistic.

The EC only urges the candidates and parties to abide by the code of conduct. It also imposes expenditure limits on candidates, asks for election expense details in a standard accounting format, and asks the candidates to limit the amount a party or candidate can spend for election purposes according to the provision of article 24 of the Election Commission Act.

But most candidates cross the limit of expenditure during the election set by the commission. It is no secret that contractors, smugglers and black marketeers fund election campaigns in Nepal, but the election body has been rendered toothless by the political parties to take any action.

Elections in Nepal are won by manipulation, muscle and money. It is true that some democracies of Asia are dying at the hands of the elected elites. They want to be dictators after winning the elections. 

In the words of eminent economist Amartya Sen, “Balloting alone can be thoroughly inadequate on its own, as is abundantly illustrated by the outstanding electoral victories of ruling tyrannies in authoritarian regimes in the past as well as now in the present.”

Expression of public views are thwarted by censorship, informational exclusion and climate of fear, along with the suppression of political opposition and the independence of the media, and the absence of basic civil rights and political liberties. 

The constitution of Nepal, which came into effect on 20 Sept 2015, replaced the Interim Constitution of 2007. With the endorsement of the charter, the country saw a new political era. It formally demolished the centralized and unitary system of governance, and established a people-oriented federal democratic. 

The people of Nepal have become the ultimate sovereign power of the nation. The constitution has provided a competitive multiparty democratic system, civic freedom, fundamental rights, human rights, periodic elections, voting rights without the right of rejection, full freedom of the media and independent judiciary. It is founded on principles of socialism, the rule of law, democratic values, durable peace, good governance and sustainable development. 

Founded on the provisions of the constitution, three-tier general elections were held between May and December of 2017 elected about 35,000 local level representatives, including mayors, deputy mayors, ward chiefs and they get salary including all allowances. 

Article 225 of the constitutions has mentioned that the term of local level-elected representatives shall be of five years. According to this, the government has constitutionally held the local elections this year as suggested by the Election Commission.

But the tragedy is that in Nepal the date of elections is decided by the government and not by its election governing body. 

The popular saying that power corrupts is nowhere more apparent than in Nepal. There is rampant corruption in this country from local levels to high levels. Elected representatives and government officials have looted the state coffers to a great extent. They spend less time understanding the plight and problems of the general masses. 

I completed the tour of Dhanusha, Siraha and Sarlahi districts before local elections held on May 13. There, I met many intellectuals, civil society members and eminent persons to discuss election code of conduct and rule of law, among other issues.  Their concerns ranged from elected representatives and politicians blatantly ignoring the rule of law to engaging in corruption to misappropriating state funds to win elections.

To conduct a fair election, Nepal needs an empowered poll governing body, one that is allowed to implement the code of conduct and regulations without any political hindrance. But a powerful EC alone will not do, it is also incumbent upon political parties and their leaders to respect the rule of law and be transparent when it comes to election funding.    

Elections are becoming an increasingly expensive affair in Nepal. As a result, suitable and qualified candidates are unable to run an effective campaign. Honest candidates cannot win elections only because they cannot spend money. 

Expensive elections have become a bane to Nepal’s democracy. Rather than competent and visionary candidates, businessmen and contractors are entering elections to further their vested interests. They can buy the votes because they have sufficient money. 

Big businesses, NGOs and INGOs also fund political campaigns in Nepal to push their own interests. Parties and their candidates never declare the source of their campaign funding despite repeated urges by the EC. They do so because they do not care for the rule of law and impartial elections.

Therefore, a one-sided effort from the election body to ensure free and fair vote and implement the election code will never work.      

The author is a former joint secretary of Election Commission