Election Commission’s selective way of decisions comes into questionPoll body, which was reluctant to act promptly on the now defunct Nepal Communist Party dispute and on UML, is quick to decide on the issues of Janata Samajbadi Party.
A day after the warring factions of the Janata Samajbadi Party approached the Election Commission seeking legitimacy for their decisions to expel each other’s leaders, the Commission came to a swift decision on Wednesday inviting the two factions for discussions on Thursday.
This was contrary to its recent tendency to linger over decisions and this surprised many.
“The commission has taken a selective approach in taking decisions. This gives ample room to be suspicious about its intentions,” Dolakh Bahadur Gurung, a former acting chief election commissioner, told the Post.
After the Mahantha Thakur-led faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party decided to support the KP Sharma Oli government amid ongoing political wrangling, the faction led by the other chair, Upendra Yadav, expelled three leaders besides Thakur.
Rajendra Mahato, Sarbendra Nath Shukla and Laxman Lal Karna, along with Thakur have been in talks with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to join the government. Hours later, the Thakur-faction removed Yadav from the party.
Both factions then submitted their decisions to the Election Commission, asking it to update the election body's record.
The very next day the commission asked the two factions to come up with details as prescribed in the regulations to Political Parties Act-2017.
"We have asked both factions to submit the details in a prescribed format as provisioned in Annex 18 of the regulations to Political Parties Act," said Raj Kumar Shrestha, spokesperson for the commission.
Given the importance of the legitimacy of the party for the caretaker government, the Election Commission acted swiftly this time.
“I appreciate that the commission took a prompt decision in the Janata Samajbadi Party’s case,” said Gurung. “But why didn’t it show the same level of urgency in the Nepal Communist Party’s case?”
Following the December 20 move of the Oli government to dissolve the House of Representatives, the Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal-led faction of then Nepal Communist Party (NCP) had approached the Election Commission on December 22 demanding legitimacy for the party they led. They had just sacked Oli as the party chair for his unilateral dissolution move and appointed Nepal in his place.
Meanwhile, on the same day the Oli faction of the NCP enlarged the Central Committee to 1,199-member from 446-strong and presented the new list of members to the commission, also demanding legitimacy.
Oli faction had increased the size of the Central Committee in an effort to get recognition for the faction as the legitimate party as it had been in a minority in the committee formed after the merger between the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre) in May 2018.
The commission took no decision on the matter for weeks.
Finally, on January 24 the poll body announced that it was not giving legitimacy to either faction. This decision too had come only after growing criticism over its indecision.
The Dahal-Nepal faction once again approached the commission on February 2 demanding legitimacy.
It once again sat on the petition.
The constitutional body failed to take any decision on the matter even after the Supreme Court, on February 23, reinstated the House of Representatives calling the dissolution unconstitutional.
The commission’s delay even prompted five former chief election commissioners to urge the poll body to decide on the party’s legitimacy without delay. In a statement on March 3, they said the indecision has raised questions over the decision-making capacity and the autonomy of the commission.
Many believed the commission didn’t take any decision because the Dahal-Nepal faction had an upper hand as it commanded a majority in the Central Committee.
The Supreme Court came to its rescue.
On March 7 it awarded the name Nepal Communist Party to Rishiram Kattel and invalidated the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), with (NCP) within brackets, resurrecting the CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) to their pre-merger status of May 2017.
With Oli’s position in the UML safe as its chair, the poll body immediately corresponded with the two parties as per the court’s order asking them to approach it if they wanted to merge.
“It is clear that the commission is refraining from any decision that affects Oli,” a former commissioner at the poll body told the Post on the condition of anonymity.
In the case of the Janata Samajbadi Party, it is important for Oli that it gives the ‘right’ decision. A decision in favour of the Thakur faction would mean Oli would have the support of the stronger faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party.
Any change in a political party’s central committee must be informed to the Election Commission in the prescribed format.
According to Shrestha, the spokesman, the faction-led by Thakur has been asked to submit a copy of the decision including signatures of the central committee members.
“Such details from the faction have been sought to ensure whether the faction had a majority while taking decision,” Shrestha said.
As the Yadav faction had already submitted details including the signatures of the party’s Central Committee members, it did not seek the additional details from this faction, according to the commission.
On Tuesday, each faction had submitted the decision regarding the removal of the party leaders as per section 51 of the Political Parties Act.
On Thursday the two factions reached the Election Commission to discuss the issue. There were discussions but no decision was taken, according to the spokesperson.
“The commission will look into whether it was just a decision to change office bearers or if there is a dispute,” said Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya. “If it is a matter of dispute regarding the legitimacy of the Central Committee's decision, they should complain based on section 43 of the Political Parties Act-2017.”
Section 43 of the Act allows the commission to settle disputes between two factions of the same party regarding its office bearers, central committee and legitimacy of the central committee’s decisions.
Meanwhile, there is also an issue pending at the Election Commission regarding the UML.
The Madhav Kumar Nepal-led faction of the UML on April 14 had filed a complaint over Oli’s ‘unilateral’ decision to appoint new Central Committee members, referring to Oli’s induction of 23 central committee members, who had defected from the Maoist Centre on March 12.
On the back of this new-found power, following the March 7 Supreme Court decision, Oli on the same day also had the statute of the party amended to give the chair sweeping powers and to strip leaders of the Nepal faction of their party responsibilities.
Again the Election Commission has shown no interest in acting on the Nepal faction’s complaints.
Political observers say doubts over the role of the Election Commission is a serious issue as elections are around the corner. The elections for the House of Representatives have been called for November 12 and November 17 after its dissolution although the dissolution is under review at the Supreme Court.
“Erosion of trust over the constitutional bodies at a time when people have no hope from the government is a serious issue,” Surendra Labh, a political economist, told the Post. “If the Election Commission doesn’t improve its working style, there will be questions at the national and international levels over the election conducted.”