Crack the whipThe Election Commission should punish the candidates or parties that flout the code.
Free and fair elections form the backbone of democracy. However, as local elections come near, local units across various parts of the country are reported to have distributed funds to organisations and groups for programmes ranging from picnics to educational tours. If not hard cash, some local units are distributing gifts, a case in point being Chandragiri Municipality’s Ward 8, which bought 700 saris for women affiliated to 28 groups within the ward (but fell short of distributing them after intervention from the Election Commission). As much as it sounds silly for a local level government to distribute saris rather than work for the people, the decision to distribute such gifts reflects the desperation of the reigning local representatives to spread their influence among the people by misusing government resources and influencing the electoral process itself. That should stop right away.
The electoral body has set a code of conduct for various stakeholders of the electoral process, including political parties, government officials, voters, electoral observers and the public. The code prohibits the use of hateful speech and baseless smear campaigns against opponents through speeches and social media posts. It prohibits the misuse of public property as campaign material for candidates.
Importantly, it calls for candidates to use the banking system for campaign-related expenses to ensure financial integrity. In principle, the code lays out enough rules for fair play. But the question is whether it will be implemented on the ground as polling day approaches and candidates look for ways to downsize their opponents. For that, the Election Commission should grow a tougher spine and punish the candidates or parties that flout the rules.
The commission should not make the electoral code of conduct yet another instance of tethering a cat to a pole during the shraddha ritual. Rather, it should strictly enforce and monitor the code of conduct to ensure free and fair elections. It should train its poll monitors to actively look for instances of violation of the code, and take immediate punitive action against the defaulters. It should educate the voters about their responsibility as citizens to follow the rules of the electoral process to strengthen democracy. Importantly, it should remind political parties, arguably the biggest violators of the code, that they have the responsibility to follow the code and allow the elections to be held freely and fairly.
The fact that a few political parties, including the CPN-UML, refused to sign a commitment to follow the electoral code of conduct issued by the Election Commission shows how political parties actively look for reasons not to take ownership of the electoral process. That political parties pursue self-defeating goals for petty gains is not news anymore, but there is an established protocol that brings them to size if they go wayward—and that is the code of conduct. The Election Commission has not only the legal mandate but also the ethical responsibility to ensure that each stakeholder in the electoral process remains faithful to a truly fair electoral process.