It’s time to talk about electoral reforms
Compared to other South Asian countries, Nepal’s electoral process is considerably free and fair. However, there are many loopholes where the country needs to make urgent improvements to strengthen democracy.
The Election Commission (EC) has come up with a draft of new law which proposes sweeping changes in the country’s election law to create a more inclusive and accountable electoral process. The draft law, prepared after comprehensive consultations with political parties, is currently being studied by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The changes proposed in the election laws were made based on various factors, including the orders from the Supreme Court, practices followed in other democratic countries, and lessons learned from Nepal’s own electoral history.
Constitutional expert Chandra Kanta Gyawali says the proposed law aims to address numerous issues related to free and fair elections, such as allowing voting rights to Nepali citizens living abroad, imposing a spending ceiling on candidates and taking measures to minimize the chances of vote-rigging. The law covers all types of election, from presidential to local level, and if endorsed, will further improve and democratize the election process.
One of the proposed changes is the implementation of an online-based voter registration system. This system will modernize the way citizens register to vote, making it easier and more efficient for everyone to participate in the democratic process, say EC officials.
To ensure that Nepalis living abroad too have a say in the nation's governance, the EC has proposed including them on the voter list and allowing them to cast their votes under the Proportional Representation (PR) system.
The election governing body has also proposed a provision to prohibit candidates who have lost in federal, provincial, or local elections from running in other elections, except in the case of their own constituencies or local units. This measure is aimed at preventing candidates from hopping from one constituency to another.
To ensure a diverse representation of voices, the EC has proposed restricting candidates, who had been elected twice under the PR system, from running again through the same route. To ensure women representation, the EC has proposed making at least 33 percent women candidates mandatory under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system.
The EC plans to boost women’s participation even further in local units. To this end, the election body has proposed a provision that requires parties to field women in the posts of either mayor/chairperson or deputy mayor/vice chairpersons in local units. If parties are filing candidacy in one of these two posts, it has to be women. The EC has also proposed that 33 percent of the candidates for the post of ward chairpersons in local units has to be women.
Another key proposition made by the EC in the election law is the ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option on the ballot paper. This option would give voters the chance to express their dissatisfaction if they feel that none of the candidates are suitable to represent them.
In 2014, the Supreme Court had directed the government to allow voters to cast negative votes by including NOTA option on the ballot paper. But the directive was never implemented at the consensus of major political parties. Another crucial proposal to reform the country’s election process proposed is fixing the election dates and campaigning period to ensure a more structured and organized electoral process.
Similarly, the poll body has recommended setting the candidate eligibility criteria directly in the law itself. This proposal aims to establish clear standards for individuals aspiring to run for public office. The EC has also proposed prohibiting candidates from contesting elections under a different party's banner before formally resigning from their current party. This provision intends to discourage the practice of using other political parties' election symbols for personal gain.
To expedite the resolution of disputes regarding the eligibility of elected candidates, the EC has suggested that the concerned courts must render a final decision within six months from the day the case is filed. Furthermore, the EC has proposed a provision mandating candidates to declare their assets held in their name or in the name of their family members during the nomination process.
Recognizing the importance of diverse representation, the EC has recommended providing a 50 percent discount on the election deposit amount for candidates belonging to Dalit, women, underprivileged, sexual and gender minorities, and people with disabilities.
Likewise, the EC has also suggested introducing advance voting under the PR system for specific groups, such as government staffers assigned on poll duty, security personnel, election observers, and individuals preparing for foreign visits. The EC has said that these changes would be incorporated into the ‘Bill to Amend and Unify Existing Election Laws’ and forwarded to the Cabinet through the Ministry of Home Affairs.
EC hopeful of parliamentary endorsement
Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya said the commission is positive that the lawmakers will endorse the bill aimed at improving the country’s electoral system. He added that in consultations held with the chief whips of all political parties, the EC officials were assured that the proposed law will get parliamentary endorsement. But Ila Sharma, former EC commissioner, said that there was no guarantee that Parliament would accept all the provisions suggested by the EC. As electoral reform is an ongoing process, all issues may not be incorporated at once, she added. Sharma suggested that all sections of society should exert pressure on the political parties and the government to reform the electoral process.
- NOTA ballot paper
- Ensuring diverse representation
- Declaration of assets by candidates
- 33 representation of women at all levels
- Voting rights for Nepali living abroad
- Online-based voter registration
- Fixing the date of election by EC
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