Election watchFree and fair poll observation is important exercise in a democracy
The chief election officer of Kanchanpur recently wrote to the Election Commission (EC) asking that the European Union (EU) election observers be barred from operating in Province 7 districts. He claimed that the observation team doing the rounds in Kanchanpur had violated the election code of conduct by entering the district court and asking questions that exceeded their limit.
The EC has not yet issued a direct response to the request of the Kanchanpur chief election officer, who is also a judge of the district court.
Nonetheless, Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav stated that election observers did not have the right to certify whether elections in Nepal are credible, and that it’s purely the Nepali people who decide the credibility of elections held here.
At the moment it is unclear whether the infraction committed by the EU observers in Kanchanpur was of a scale that merits proscribing them. From the available information, it appears that their conduct doesn’t constitute a grave offence, although they seem to have overreached themselves in entering the premises of a court and asking officials there about human resources at their disposal. These queries may be well-intentioned but constitute a clear departure from the mandate of election observation.
Election observers have to tread more carefully. Many of them are in Nepal for a very short period of time and unaware of the political and social complexities. It is therefore the responsibility of their missions to properly instruct them on who they can meet and what kind of questions they can ask.
Still, the outrage over the Kanchanpur election official, as well as certain other responses, appears disproportionate to the offence caused. There is even talk that election observers should be barred from the country altogether. It is indicative of the hostility that has arisen among certain sections of this country towards any international organisation operating in Nepal. A more measured response by election officials would have been desirable.
It is a misconception to think that the task of observers is to issue judgment on whether elections here are free and fair. Rather, Nepal invites election observers to showcase the fact that this country is gradually transitioning to a fully functioning democratic society. There might come a time when it may no longer be necessary to invite observers, as this newspaper quoted an election commissioner as saying.
When Nepal begins to have regular elections that are free and fair, where all parties can operate without fear and there is no violence or intimidation, the international community will feel that there is no need to observe polls here. Until that time, our officials would do well to treat observers as an important component of a democracy.
Of course, it goes without saying the international observers too are well briefed by their missions on the law of the land and general behaviour expected of them.