All that is free and fairThirty-two districts, mostly mountainous, went to polls yesterday in the first of two phases of elections. Early estimates put the turnout at 65 percent.
Thirty-two districts, mostly mountainous, went to polls yesterday in the first of two phases of elections. Early estimates put the turnout at 65 percent.
Clearly, the calls of poll boycott, fears stoked by more than a dozen security incidents in the run-up to the Election Day, an advancing winter, and the generally poor perception of political parties seem to have done little to deter voters.
The overall turnout was less compared to the overall national turnout, close to 75 percent, for the local polls that took place in the summer. But the first phase of elections yesterday took place in relatively inaccessible and cold mountain districts and it also came on the heels of local polls—hence was far less of a novelty.
The national turnout is expected to improve once the elections move to the valleys, hills and Tarai districts. In all, over 3 million voters were registered to elect 37 members to the federal parliament in the First-Past-the-Post election, and 74 to the seven provincial assemblies. The rest of the country will go to polls on December 7.
Though there was serious public apprehension about the recent spate of violence unleashed by those opposing the polls and inter-party clashes, the relatively high turnout means Nepali voters’ desire to exercise their democratic rights far outweighed their security concerns.
The recent arrests of the cadres of the CPN may have also caused the security situation to ease up a bit, especially in such volatile Midwestern districts as Rolpa, Rukum and Jajarkot—now in Province 5 and 6. Even the traditional Maoist hotbed of Thawang, by midday yesterday, had seen a 30 percent turnout.
The high turnouts in the last two polls—in 2013 and local polls—have been, among others, attributed to ease of polling. Still, it has not been as an easy election. A huge number of polling centres in five Karnali districts, for example, were blanketed in snow a day before the polls and temperatures had plummeted to subzero in the highland villages where 60 polling stations were located.
Countless candidates have complained that this has easily been the most expensive election they have contested. Though the Election Commission has put a cap of Rs2.5 million for a candidate contesting elections to the federal parliament, one Chief District Officer based in a Tarai district told this newspaper that he had evidence that every single candidate from major parties were spending Rs10 million or more.
The EC currently relies on public complaints, media reports and its own limited vigilance (given the resource constraints) to monitor the code of conduct. In the future, it will need to be legally empowered to work closely with such institutions as the central bank, Department of Money Laundering Investigation and Department and Revenue Investigation to look into the breach of the financial disclosure of candidates’ election expenses. Free and fair elections after all are fundamental to a healthy democracy.