Was poll body consulted on midterm elections, Dahal-Nepal faction asksThe law states that government must take the Election Commission into confidence before announcing poll dates. But an official says there is no written record of consultation between the two sides.
Leaders from the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-Madhav Nepal faction of the Nepal Communist Party have sought evidence of the government having held consultations with the Election Commission before announcing the date for midterm elections, as per legal provisions.
Based on the recommendation of the Cabinet, President Bidya Devi Bhandari on December 20 dissolved the House of Representatives and announced the midterm elections on April 30 and May 10.
Most of the political parties including the Dahal-Nepal faction of the Nepal Communist Party, the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party have been terming the House dissolution and announcement of elections as an unconstitutional move.
On January 11, the Dahal-Nepal faction had formally asked the commission to halt the preparations for elections, arguing that the case against House dissolution is sub judice in the Supreme Court.
Election preparations would influence the ongoing hearing at the court, leaders from the Dahal-Nepal faction had argued.
At an interaction organised by the commission with the political parties represented at the federal, provincial and local levels on Sunday, leaders from the Dahal-Nepal faction of the Nepal Communist Party had asked whether the government consulted with the commission in line with the legal provision.
Section 3 (1) of the Election Commission Act-2017 and section 6 (1) of the Act on Elections for Members of House of Representatives 2017 suggest the government consult with the commission before announcing the election.
“The provision says that the government ‘should’, not ‘could’, consult with the commission before announcing the election dates,” said Lilamani Pokharel, a senior leader of the commuinst party’s Dahal-Nepal faction.
“So we sought evidence from the commission whether the government held such a consultation. We asked the commission to produce a written document about the government having held consultation with the commission before the announcement of midterm elections.”
A senior official at the commission told the Post on condition of anonymity that he had seen no such document about the government holding consultation with the commission.
“I don’t know if there has been informal consultation with the chief commissioner and commissioners,” the official said.
Pokharel, the leader from the Dahal-Nepal faction of the Nepal Communist Party, said there should be a written record of consultation with the election body and that any other form of consultation does not hold water in the rule of law.
The Post’s efforts to contact the chief commissioner and commissioners failed as they didn’t respond to the calls.
But during Sunday’s interaction, election officials said that the government was not required to mandatorily ask the commission regarding the election dates.
They also complained about the government not giving the commission the authority to fix the date of the elections as it had sought when the election laws were drafted three years ago. As constitutionality of the House dissolution is being tested at the Supreme Court, legality of announcing the election date has also been questioned.
Leaders from the Dahal-Nepal faction had also raised questions over the transfer of Joint-secretary Laxmi Prasad Gautam, who was looking into the dispute in the communist party, as head of the legal department at the commission.
“We asked the commission why the transfer was approved after the election dates were announced and why the commission failed to stop it despite being a constitutional body,” said Pokharel, who is also a Standing Committee member of the Nepal Communist Party. “It appears that the government was not happy with Gautam.”
Usually, the commission stops transfer of government employees without first taking its approval once the election code of conduct is implemented.
The commission had invited representatives from the political parties to seek their support on the voter list updating process and revising polling booths. The election body plans to publish the voters’ list on January 28 at the local level and seek claims from people about the list while also reviewing the existing polling booths. A committee headed by chief district officer and represented by the district leaders of political parties usually decide where polling booths should be set up.
But Pokharel said that his faction of the Nepal Communist Party would respond whether it would cooperate with the commission for review of polling booths after consultation in the party.
Representatives of the Oli faction, the Nepal Congress and smaller parties had asked the commission to continue with its preparations for the polls.
Baburam Dahal, legal adviser to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who had participated in the interaction representing the Oli faction, told the Post that he had asked the commission not to stop any election preparation under pressure from any forces.
“Holding elections is the main task of the commission and it should not run away from its duty,” he said.
Even though the Nepali Congress has been protesting against the House dissolution, its representative suggested that the commission carry on with its preparations.
Ananda Dhungana, a Congress leader who participated in Sunday's interaction, told the Post that he presented his party’s position.
“As the issue of House dissolution will be settled by the court, the commission needs to continue with its preparations for holding the elections after the poll dates were announced,” he said.
According to commission officials, representatives of the political parties appreciated the preparations to hold the elections despite questions about the constitutionality of the move to dissolve the House and to announce the elections.
“Generally, they supported our effort regarding election preparations,” said Raj Kumar Shrestha, spokesperson for the commission.