Election code of conduct in question after the UML refuses to sign itExperts fault Election Commission for failing to win the confidence of all parties registered to contest the polls.
The main opposition party CPN-UML and other fringe parties on Tuesday refused to sign the commitment paper prepared by the Election Commission to implement the election code of conduct.
Fringe parties have objected to the Election Commission, saying they were not allowed to put forth their suggestions when the code of conduct was being prepared.
Then a commotion ensued. The main opposition leaders were also irked at the commission for not consulting them on any activities related to the polls including the drafting of the code of conduct.
The UML, however, has said it was not against signing the commitment paper per se.
“Actually we were not against signing the commitment paper prepared by the Election Commission. But the situation turned rowdy with fringe parties accusing the commission of leaving them out of all the processes,” said Niraj Acharya, deputy head of the UML’s Election Department. “We are committed to abiding by the code of conduct. We just wanted to know whether the Election Commission could implement it in a fair manner.”
The UML lately has taken exception to some of the commission's moves, including the decision to change the colour of the ballot paper from red to green.
UML chair KP Sharma Oli even made a public statement, questioning if the commission was trying to create a situation favourable for the Nepali Congress, whose election symbol is a tree.
The code of conduct will come into effect once the Election Commission decides the date. The 101-page Election Code of Conduct-2022 having 48 points was published in the Nepal Gazette on March 17.
Local elections are slated for May 13.
On Tuesday, the Election Commission had invited representatives of all the 79 political parties registered to take part in the upcoming local polls to get their signatures on the commitment paper.
Signing on the commitment paper is a symbolic pledge by the parties that they would fully abide by the code of conduct. Election officials say this is just a formality but does hold its own value, as parties’ pledge to abide by the code of conduct helps in making elections fair.
Fringe parties started expressing their grievances after Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya asked all the representatives to sign the commitment paper. The representatives, however, demanded that they be allowed to hold discussions before they signed the commitment paper.
From the UML, its chief of the Election Department Ramesh Badal was also present along with Acharya.
The Election Commission has argued that it had sought suggestions from parties on the code of conduct by issuing a notice on its website.
“We had invited the representatives of the political parties just to sign the commitment paper but they demanded that they be allowed to hold discussions on the code of conduct. It was not necessary as the code of conduct has already been published in the gazette,” said Shaligram Sharma Poudel, spokesperson of the Election Commission. “The misunderstanding created a problem.”
Poudel said as some 65 political parties have already signed the commitment paper there won’t be a big issue.
But UML’s chief of Election Department Badal said his party has not taken any decision yet on whether to sign the commitment paper but they will wait and see and there is nothing to hurry as they first need to study the code of conduct thoroughly. “There should have been discussions among the parties. We didn’t know whom the commission discussed before preparing the code of conduct,” Badal told the Post.
UML chair Oli has been objecting to some of the provisions of the election code of conduct and the two-day long duration given by the commission for filing candidacy, among other things. He has also been accusing the election commissioners of siding with leaders of the ruling coalition.
Observers say the largest party not signing the commitment paper—or not finding a situation to do so—does not send a good message, even though it may not have that great an impact when it comes to implementation of the code or conduct.
Commission authorities are responsible to take the political parties into confidence so that they could easily take the ownership of the provisions prepared by the commission.
“This situation should not have arisen,” said Bhojraj Pokharel, former chief election commissioner. “The commission should have drafted the code of conduct in consultation with political parties but now with the document already prepared, the authorities should have resolved the conflict through dialogue and discussions.”
According to Pokharel, the commission should be strict in implementing the code of conduct, it should be equally flexible in lending its ears to parties, as it’s the political parties for which elections are held.
Another former chief election commissioner Neil Kantha Uprety also said it’s the commission’s duty to take all the parties into confidence before asking them to sign on the commitment paper.
“If some major parties refused to sign the commitment paper, that would make other parties suspicious,” said Uprety. “There is time for the commission to bring the disgruntled parties for discussions and settle the issue at the earliest.”
According to Uprety, the commission’s duty is not limited just to holding polls, instilling confidence in every party that it is unbiased is also its responsibility. No party should feel that the commission is favoring any party, he said.
Observers say combined efforts of both the political parties who take part in the elections and the Election Commission that conducts the polls is a must for ensuring free and fair elections.
But with political parties especially the largest party objecting to the election body could have some consequences, although UML leaders have said they were committed to free, fair and timely polls.
“With political parties opposing the commitment paper it has become clear that there are issues with the document,” said Subas Nembang, deputy leader of the UML Parliamentary Party. “Our concern is that the Election Commission should have taken the main opposition in confidence by allowing its say on the matters it finds concerning.”