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Radhika Regmi: Election Planning Blueprint of Nepal

Voter registration should accurately reflect voter status by removing the names of deceased and duplicated individuals to ensure better election planning and for fair and credible elections. The authorities should collaborate with local levels to maintain a true database. - Editor

Radhika Regmi: Election Planning Blueprint of Nepal

Radhika Regmi is the deputy country director for Nepal at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). She is an elections administration specialist with over two decades of experience in democracy, governance, elections, and inclusion programming. She has overseen and managed projects that provide technical support for inclusive, effective, and democratic elections and governance in Nepal. Since joining the IFES team in 2010, she has been offering technical support to the Election Commission (EC) of Nepal to implement free, fair, inclusive and credible elections. Regmi has also worked as faculty in universities and with various UN and international agencies.

In this write-up, she shares insights from her 20 years of experience and offers recommendations for improving election planning in Nepal.


Periodic election

Our constitution mandates that general and local elections be held every five years, but it does not specify the exact date. Consequently, the legal framework grants the government the authority to set the election date. This flexibility allows the government to potentially delay or advance the election timing based on its favorable conditions. Therefore, the exact date of the election should be explicitly mentioned in the legal framework or should be announced by the election management bodies. Additionally, as time progresses and new generation issues emerge, many laws and regulations require amendments and updates, which fall under the legal framework of elections. This legal framework must be simple and robust to ensure high-quality elections.

Electoral calendar

The gap between two elections is five years, and there must be a comprehensive plan for this period. Election management involves several steps to ensure a fair and smooth process. The election calendar is an important tool for keeping elections on track and includes an overview about all relevant milestones of election operations. It ensures tasks are not overlooked, are completed on time and include time buffer in the planning to avoid

In a mature democracy with a well-established electoral system, the preparations for an election are familiar and routine. For newer democracies, especially in developing countries and countries undergoing a transition, preparing for an election can be a major undertaking that requires much more time. Good planning should allow enough time to launch and manage an election, and to perform each task properly. It sets the dates and duration for various activities such as what dates and times voters can register to vote, when political parties can nominate and register candidates, campaign and monitors to observe the process and so on. Integrity may be jeopardized if there is not enough time for some important activities. On the other hand, a lengthy calendar may increase operating, staffing and other costs of the electoral management body. Observation and monitoring groups may also be affected by a lengthy calendar. This cycle should be continuous to ensure consistent improvement and readiness.

Voter registration and education

In Nepal, voter registration is open continuously and allows Nepali to pre-enroll online in the process. To complete the registration, voters are required to visit the province or district election office to provide their fingerprints and photograph, but it closes once the election date is announced. Since many people attempt to register only after the election date is announced, registration should remain open for at least a week or two afterward. Additionally, the voter registration process should be accessible and closer to the people and the voter database needs to be robust. For instance, it should accurately reflect voter status by removing the names of deceased and duplicated individuals to avoid proxy voting and ensure fair election. The election management bodies should collaborate and work together with local governments to ensure accurate and timely updates on deceased voters. This collaboration is crucial for maintaining an up-to-date database and increasing access of people in the voter registration process. Establishing a clear legal framework for this partnership is essential.  An accurate voter database and advanced technology facilitate election management, including determining ballot numbers, polling centers, human resource and budgets as voter registration is basic data for planning. 

Voter education is equally important, as people need to understand the significance of their vote and the democratic process. Not only the EC but also related stakeholders such as media, civil society, political parties, and others should take ownership of voter education efforts. It plays an important role in ensuring free, fair and credible elections. It provides citizens with information about their rights and responsibilities in the electoral process, fostering informed participation. By educating and motivating citizens on topics such as voting procedures, electoral laws, and the importance of democratic participation, voter education programs contribute to building a democratic culture in the country and increase participation in elections. These programs help to prevent integrity issues like vote buying. It is vital for voter education to remain neutral and non-partisan, focusing solely on providing information without any political bias. In many democracies, election management bodies together with civil society implement voter education initiatives, ensuring their fairness and effectiveness.

Budget and resources

Elections are a festival and celebration of democracy, and investing in democracy is essential for better outcomes. While the focus is often on the polling day, the election cycle is divided in three phases: pre-election period, election period, and post-election period. However, the budget for the EC is provided by the Ministry of Finance and is allocated only after the election is announced. This limited funding makes it challenging for the EC to operate effectively throughout the election cycle. In contrast, the independent election management bodies in democratic countries have their parliaments allocate yearly and election budgets. A lack of budget hampers all aspects of the election process, particularly in terms of continuous electoral and voter education, voter registration and other election preparation activities during the non-election period. Logistics management is another big task as elections are considered the biggest logistical event of the country. Hence, human resources and proper management of activities as per election calendar play a crucial role in elections. A well-trained and professional workforce is essential for free, fair and credible elections. 

Polling, counting and results

The most important act of an election is casting a ballot. Ensuring accessibility and security for voters to polling centers, the design of simple ballot and efficient vote counting and result announcement are all crucial aspects of a successful election. It is not ideal for voters to have to walk long distances or wait for hours to cast their votes. Therefore, increasing the number of accessible polling centers or implementing early and advance voting, as practiced in many countries, can help voters to exercise their voting rights.

To uphold the principle of free and secret vote, the ballot paper should be simple. Complex ballot papers can confuse voters, may delay in voting and counting, also may result in a high number of invalid votes and will also be expensive in terms of printing and delivery.  

Our ballot for local level elections and for proportional election systems in provincial and federal level are currently complex, and to improve them, the EC should either increase the duration between the last nomination day and the election day or increase the printing capacity in a short period of time. 

While electronic voting machines (EVMs) are ideal for quick election results, they pose challenges in a country like Nepal, where technology infrastructure is lacking. Issues such as technology management, data security, and the cost of importing and operating EVMs could make Nepal less financially feasible compared to ballot papers for some time. Regarding none of the above (NOTA) options in the ballot, it should serve as a moral obligation for candidates to perform better. However, if NOTA receives the highest votes, it is not economically viable to hold a re-election in Nepal. For out-of-country voting (OCV), the authorities should pilot the initiative in a few countries by determining the local laws and setting up polling centers in embassies and consular offices. 

To ensure the integrity of the electoral process, vote counting is accurate and accepted by all stakeholders. Quick results are possible even with ballot papers if the counting starts at the polling center immediately after the election ends.

Election security 

Credible elections must be free of fear, violence and intimidation. Security during the entire election process is crucial, especially during nominations, election campaigns, voting, vote counting and results announcement. Voters should vote freely; observers should observe without fear and candidates must campaign without risk to them and to their supporters. Election officials must plan and conduct elections independently, and materials must be secure to maintain integrity. Good security needs good planning. It is essential to find potential spots and places that need adequate security. A joint security plan should be developed in good coordination between the election management body and law enforcement agencies, and need to facilitate quick information sharing and decision making at the federal, provincial and local level of all institutions to act to provide adequate security.

Election campaign

In a multiparty democracy, political parties are key components and should be provided with sufficient grounds for their promotional campaigns. There are several ways to create such an environment. The state could provide funds to political parties based on their votes received and seats in parliament, and audit the expenses. It could facilitate access to governmental and private media for these parties and candidates for their campaign message. While these practices of providing media space have been practiced to some extent in Nepal, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Election campaigns often involve misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech. To curb these issues, we need a robust mechanism and process. 

Election observation

The EC, after the election, often states that the election was free, fair, and credible. To substantiate this claim both nationally and internationally, election observation is essential. National and international agencies should be granted permission for election observation as they assess all aspects of the election, including pre-election and post-election periods, not just election day. These agencies play a crucial role in enhancing the credibility of the election process. Nepal has a reputation for good election observation practices, and this should be continued.

Dispute resolution

One of the important components of election integrity is the opportunity to make a complaint or appeal and address these on time. This requires the election management bodies and the justice system addressing complaints without undue delay. In Nepal, the ECN has the authority to address any claims or complaints during the pre- and during election  period. However, after the election result, any disputes that arise are transferred to the court. It is observed that appeals are decided after the term for office is over. For example, in many cases where a writ is filed regarding an elected person, the verdict is often not delivered until after the person’s tenure has ended. Therefore, it is essential to handle the cases on a timely basis.

Political parties, research and review

Extensive research is essential in various aspects of elections, voter registration, voter educations, electoral reform, out of country voting, among others. This research aims to discover the most effective and efficient methods for conducting elections. Consultation and coordination with different stakeholders during the election process and post-election reviews with them are also crucial, as they can suggest necessary revisions in policy and administration. Findings and recommendations from research and lessons learned from these reviews should be incorporated in future election planning. Research and reviews include consultations with stakeholders, changes in the legal framework, and strategic planning. This comprehensive approach is vital for ensuring that future elections are free and acceptable.

In Nepal, the constitution envisioned a multi-party system, where political parties must register with the Election Commission with set criteria for party registration, often requiring a minimum number of party supporters or members. It is also necessary to review the current required number of supporters for party registration. If this number is too high, it can exclude smaller or newer parties. Conversely, if set too low, it may burden the electoral system by allowing registration for parties with limited support.