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Editorial: EC must prove its impartiality

Editorial: EC must prove its impartiality
The Election Commission has come under public scrutiny for some of its questionable actions ahead of the November 20 vote.   First, the polling body issued a direction to shut down the ‘No, Not Again’ Facebook page, arguing that it was spreading misinformation and hate speech against political parties and their leaders. And then, it directed a news site to take down a news article. In both these instances, the commission was trying to curb freedom of speech and expression, the most valuable right in a democratic state, in the name of maintaining election ethics and conduct.  

That the election governing body backed down—at Supreme Court’s intervention in the first incident and admission of error in the second—does not absolve it from its transgressions. Nor does Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya’s show of contrition for those “flawed decisions” at a public event this past week. 

These incidents reinforce the public suspicion that the EC and its officials are easily cajoled and influenced by political parties and their leaders. In the past, too, there have been cases of some election officials acting at the behest of political parties.   Voters cannot be assured of fair elections when the inviolability of the polling body comes into question. But the commission has time and again failed to prove that it is free of political allegiance.   In order to hold a successful vote, the commission also deploys thousands of temporary staff. And if EC’s actions are anything to go by, there is basis for voters to rest assured that those staff too are affiliated to parties and their candidates.   It is time the Election Commission got its act together. Senior officials at the commission should not be influenced by political parties. There is a doubt in the public sphere that they do the bidding of the parties. This is a valid observation since they are appointed on the basis of their political persuasions.  At a time when other key state institutions are becoming weak due to heavy politicization, the election body should be extra careful to safeguard its autonomy. If it loses its credibility, democracy will be in peril. The commission is there to protect our sacred right to vote in a free and fair manner. It should be bold and fearless in exercising its constitutional duties.