Poll body steps up preparations, but indecision on Nepal Communist Party legitimacy continuesAmid concerns over spring elections, Dahal-Nepal faction says preparations lack meaning without resolving party row.
The Election Commission, which is facing questions over impartiality as it has failed to resolve the legitimacy dispute of the Nepal Communist Party, has stepped up preparations for the snap polls announced by the KP Sharma Oli government.
Concerns are now growing that the poll body’s indecision could invite confrontation between the two factions of the Nepal Communist Party.
If the Supreme Court clears the way for polls–as many as 13 writ petitions against Oli’s House dissolution move are currently being heard by the Constitutional Bench—voting in 40 districts in the first phase should take place on the 75th day from Sunday.
On Sunday, the commission invited various political parties to discuss the election code of conduct where the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-Madhav Kumar Nepal faction of the Nepal Communist Party expressed its reservations, saying the commission should first resolve the legitimacy issue.
The Dahal-Nepal faction also asked the commission to halt the preparations until the Supreme Court passes the final verdict.
“How can the elections be held without resolving the Nepal Communist Party dispute?” Lilamani Pokhrel, a Standing Committee member of the Dahal-Nepal faction who was present at Sunday’s meeting at the commission, told the Post. “It should wait for the Supreme Court’s verdict.”
In a sudden move after finding himself corerend within his party, Oli on December 20 dissolved the lower house of Parliament and declared snap polls for April 30 and May 10. The decision resulted in a split in the Nepal Communist Party, politically.
Both the factions—one led by Oli and the other by Dahal and Nepal—say the Nepal Communist Party led by them is the legitimate one.
Such legitimacy disputes should be resolved by the commission, but it has failed to do so.
Pokhrel said it is meaningless to expedite the election process without resolving the legitimacy dispute of the party.
The Dahal-Nepal faction on February 2 applied at the commission to stake its claim to the party, the flag and the sun election symbol. The faction claims that it has submitted the signatures of around 70 percent members of the party’s 441-member Central Committee.
Earlier on December 25, the faction had registered an application, claiming that the Nepal Communist Party led by Dahal and Nepal is the legitimate party.
But prior to that, the Oli-led faction on December 22 had submitted a list of members of the enlarged Central Committee to the commission in an effort to get recognition as the legitimate party.
On December 22, the Oli faction held a meeting of its Central Committee, which appointed 556 new members to make it 1,199-strong. The Oli faction later added more leaders to have 1,501 members in its Central Committee.
The commission on January 24, however, refused to give legitimacy to either faction, saying that both had failed to follow the Political Parties Act-2017 and the party statute.
But Oli on Tuesday went to the Election Commission and asked officials not to get into any party dispute because the election process has already started, adding to the confusion. Many say Oli’s remarks were tantamount to instructing an independent constitutional body.
Commission officials, however, say they are working on resolving the Nepal Communist Party legitimacy issue.
“The purpose of Sunday’s meeting, however, was regarding the election code of conduct,” Raj Kumar Shrestha, spokesperson for the commission, told the Post. “The commission is also working on the [Nepal Communist Party] legitimacy issue.”
The election code of conduct is implemented to maintain fairness, impartiality and transparency as per Clause 28 of the Election Commission Act-2007.
The clause says: “The commission shall, while making such codes of conduct, make consultation with the concerned stakeholders.”
The Nepal government, once the code of conduct is enforced, is barred from declaring any new policies, plans and programmes, mobilising human resources, means and other resources, and using government-run media for campaigning.
The code of conduct is applicable to the government, offices and employees of governmental and semi-governmental bodies, employees engaged in the act of election, political parties, candidates and persons related with them and the mass media at the governmental and private sectors.
“The code of conduct is enforced at an appropriate time,” said Shrestha. “There is no specific time to enforce it.”
Experts say the code of conduct issue comes once there is a reassuring environment for the polls and it is confirmed that elections will indeed take place.
“Code of conduct is important but resolving the Nepal Communist Party legitimacy should be its priority,” said Ayodhee Prasad Yadav, a former chief election commissioner. “I hope it is also working to resolve the legitimacy dispute of the Nepal Communist Party.”
Twelve political parties attended Sunday’s commission meeting where except the one led by the Dahal-Nepal faction, others provided their suggestions.
Nepali Congress leader Anand Dhungana, who was present in the meeting, said the legitimacy issue of the Nepal Communist Party shouldn’t stop the election commission from carrying out its preparations.
“It is the job of the election commission to make the required preparations as election dates have been announced,” Dhungana told the Post. “It needs to be ready to hold the elections unless the Supreme Court says otherwise.”
Dhungana said a majority of the participants asked the election commission to strictly implement the code of conduct once it is enforced and decks are cleared for the polls.
But the election code of conduct is just a technical issue and one of the components, apart from logistics and budget, for holding the elections. Unless the political component, the most important of all, is addressed, elections cannot happen.
The vertical split in the Nepal Communist Party means that the faction led by Dahal and Nepal is a big political force in size, and without ensuring its participation, elections are unlikely to take place. Holding the polls by leaving out a big force with senior leaders including former prime ministers could even invite questions over the legitimacy of the elections.
The Dahal-Nepal faction, which has been holding protests against Oli’s House dissolution decision, maintains that the House must be restored.
Leaders have expressed their worry if Oli is trying to influence the poll body to give the party, the flag and the election symbol to his faction. There are also concerns if plots are being hatched to freeze the Nepal Communist Party and the sun election symbol.
If that happens, Oli can take the CPN-UML, which he has got registered with the poll body, and the rising sun as the election symbol. The Dahal-Nepal faction in that case could remain without a party, as a new party cannot be registered now.
Pokhrel, the leader of the Dahal-Nepal faction, said the Oli faction lacks the ground to claim the Nepal Communist Party.
“The motive behind the delay in resolving the legitimacy issue could be freezing the sun as an election symbol and Nepal Communist Party as a political party,” Pokhrel told the Post. “The commission seems to be working at Oli’s behest.”