‘Election Commission may have erred by rescheduling Presidential poll’Former chief election commissioner Bhojraj Pokharel on various contemporary issues.
Former chief election commissioner Bhojraj Pokharel, who also worked as a Secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, believes that Rabi Lamichhane should never have been appointed home minister. He also says the Election Commission made a mistake by rescheduling the presidential election. The Post's Purushottam Poudel spoke to Pokharel on various contemporary issues. Excerpts:
How do you see the conflict of interest in recent government appointments?
The head of the government determines what kind of people he wants in his cabinet. He failed to exercise his judgement. It would also have been preferable if individuals who would create conflicts of interest refrained from accepting certain responsibilities on ethical grounds. But that is not the case either, which suggests an erosion of morality in our politics.
Rabi Lamichhane was made home minister despite agencies under the ministry investigating him on dual citizenship. When the Supreme Court effectively stripped him of his position, he tried to regain the portfolio. How do you see this as a former Secretary of the Home Ministry?
I was surprised when I learned that he would lead the Ministry of Home. Lamichhane’s party promised during the elections that it would establish a political standard that the old parties failed to do. When there were suspicions around the party's leadership, the party and its head should not have joined the government. There was a clear conflict of interest in its leadership of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Even if the minister himself does not exert any pressure as home minister, the ministry staff would still hesitate to pursue a sitting minister’s case. The bureaucracy in Nepal is yet to acquire the capacity to overrule its leadership.
Taking action against the minister could jeopardise the bureaucrat's career. The police were investigating a case against Rabi Lamichhane before he was appointed home minister, but it was dropped once he took the helm.
People don't trust our institutions. If a person is serving as a minister and the case against him turns out to be fraudulent, the public still will charge him or her with manipulation. Therefore, it is advisable to stay outside the government in such cases.
There is also a belief that ministers should have expertise in a field related to their ministry. What do you think?
We want experts in the position of a minister, but those experts can have their own baggage. So lately, I have been saying that parliamentarians should not be ministers. If we can do this, we will have some check and balance between different state organs.
Every parliamentarian might not be an expert in a given field. One needs extensive experience to develop expertise in a subject. For example, when an individual working in the field of education holds the position of Minister of Education, he might possess expertise in education-related matters. But they shouldn't be ministers if they have their own education establishments.
In the election of the first Constituent Assembly in 2008, we arranged for a Propositional Representative (PR) system. You were the Chief Election Commissioner at the time. However, the PR system has become a ladder for people with conflicts of interest to rise up.
I myself had endorsed the PR system in our elections. Nepal was in the midst of drafting its constitution at the time. In order to guarantee that members of various communities participated in constitution-writing, we added the PR system. If we examine the outcomes of the three previous parliamentary elections in Nepal, we find that while hilly Brahman's representation ranged from a minimum of 25 to a maximum of 44 percent, Dalit representation was negligible.
We made the decision to use this mechanism to make sure that the election that was taking place to turn a war into peace did not pave the way for new strife. We did not, however, anticipate the current circumstances. The already powerful political leaders and those with conflicts of interest were not the intended beneficiaries of the system. Such a predicament arises when the leadership cannot manage the system they lead.
You said you had a major role in bringing the PR electoral system. You don't, however, seem to be happy with the system right now.
It is not a question of my satisfaction. I am not dissatisfied with the PR system. The PR system envisioned for the Constituent Assembly was later included in the federal constitution as well. The purpose for which this electoral system was conceived has had some desired change, but not enough.
It was evident during the recent elections that the public was dissatisfied with established political parties. A new political force emerged, yet in a short period, it too is proving to be no different to old ones. Do you think the public resentment of politicians is increasing?
The rising hostility toward politics is the most unsettling. When two people first meet, they start talking about how the nation is wrecked. People's discontent with politics will grow so long as the country struggles with effective governance. It appears the law applies to only the less-privileged ones. Small businessmen like Prem Acharya have been affected by the high bank interests, whereas businessmen who borrow billions of rupees don’t even pay interest on their loans. This is a sign of a failure of governance.
What are the consequences of such a failure?
The outcome of the most recent election would have been different had we incorporated the “No Vote” option. However, a new party arrived with fresh expectations. Everyone reacted favourably. But then it too is starting to behave as no different to the old ones. I worry that because of this propensity, people may stop believing in young politicians.
The Election Commission has scheduled the election of President for March, despite the widespread assumption that it would be held by mid-February. As a former Election Commissioner, how do you see this development?
The time period between the presidential election and the oath-taking ceremony was not arbitrarily set when the constitution was being written. The decision to hold the presidential election a month earlier was based on the belief that the newly-elected President would have some time to get familiar with their work and to consider who to include in their group. The President will need some time to come to terms with how the presidency works.
Again, our presidential election is a three-tier election. If a candidate gets 50 percent of the vote in the first round, the election is over. However, if they fall short of that threshold, a second round of voting may take place. The two candidates who get the most votes in the first round compete in the second round.
The person who gets the majority in the second round becomes the President, but if no one gets a majority, a third round of the election should take place. Therefore, the Election Commission made a mistake by setting the date of the presidential election close to the day when the new President should be appointed.