Time for Election Commission to set example by enforcing code of conductObservers say candidates easily spend beyond limit as there were no actions in such cases in the past.
On Friday, chairperson of Chandragiri Municipality Ward 8 issued a notice, inviting women’s groups from the ward to collect saris the local government had brought for them. Ward officials had bought some 700 saris to be distributed among the women affiliated with 28 different groups within the ward.
Sabina Raut, a ward member, said they had bought the saris over a month ago based on the demands from the women’s groups. Ward Chairperson Santosh Khadka chose the distribution date a day before the nominations for local elections. The programme, however, was halted following intervention from the Election Commission. The act is against the election code of conduct that came into force on April 8.
This is not the first incident of election code violations. CPN (Maoist Centre) published its election poster with a photo of Kulman Ghising, managing director at Nepal Electricity Authority, while the CPN (Unified Socialist) used children in a rally held at Bhrikutimandap in the Capital on April 9.
Nepali Congress leader and a member of the House of Representatives said he had spent Rs60 million during the last general elections, going beyond the election commission’s ceiling of Rs2.5 million, while Netra Nath Adhikari, the speaker of Gandaki Provincial Assembly, said the money he spent was several times higher than the ceiling for the 2017 provincial assembly elections.
The commission so far has sought clarifications in eight cases of code of conduct violation. However, it hasn’t taken any further action after receiving the clarifications. “The commission is still studying the clarifications,” Shaligram Sharma Poudel, spokesperson for the commission, told the Post, adding that whether or not further action is necessary would be decided later.
As per section 23 (3) of the Election Commission Act, the commission can impose a fine amounting up to Rs100,000 to the political party, candidate, person, organisation, official or agency for flouting the election code. If the violation of the code repeats, the commission can even terminate the candidacy.
However, election observers say there is a trend of the election commission not taking stern actions in cases of code violation. They claim the leverage from the commission is largely responsible for the rampant cases of questionable conduct.
“The implementation of the election code of conduct has not been effective in the past. I must say it is ritualistic,” Kapil Shrestha, chairperson of the National Election Observation Committee, told the Post. “I don’t see encouraging signs of its effective implementation even this time.”
The code of conduct is necessary to make the polls free and fair while also controlling extravagant campaigns. Election observers say that the commission didn’t take action in the past even when observers had reported code violations. This year, the commission has permitted around 10,000 election observers from 44 different groups.
There are lapses in the implementation of the code because the commission doesn’t have the people to implement them, said Shrestha. “If the commission actually wants to enforce the code of conduct, it can start with taking actions against the leaders who are giving hate speeches.”
Cross-party leaders are openly speaking foul against rival parties and their leaders and the commission hasn’t taken any initiative to control them. Election observers say in the past the commission had formed a central monitoring committee which often did nothing. This time monitoring committees have been formed from the ward level and they are supervised from the centre. Pradip Pokharel, chairperson of the Election Observation Committee, Nepal, said he expects these committees to work effectively to ensure that the elections are held in a free and fair manner.
“Impunity is the major reason why the violation of the election code goes unabated,” Pokharel told the Post. “If the commission dares to take action against the violators this time, the malpractice will be controlled even in the federal elections to be held later this year. The commission has an opportunity to set an example this time.”
The commission says it is committed to implementing the code of conduct. “The commission will accept no excuse. It will take action as prescribed in the law,” Dinesh Thapaliya said at a press meet on Saturday.