Over 150 local units set to be devoid of representatives, creating a vacuumExperts show problem with the system, including the law that restricts poll body’s powers.
It has been six days since Nepal held local elections and at the pace the vote counting is progressing, it might take some more days, at least a week, for all the results to be out, especially of the six metropolitan cities and some other big local units.
As of Thursday night, around 600 local units—out of 753 total—have got new sets of representatives and they will assume office on Friday. However, the functioning of the local units whose vote counting is not over yet will be affected from Friday.
As per Clause 55 of the Local Level Election Act, 2016, the terms of local representatives start from the seventh day from the election date. Five years ago, the first phase of local elections was held on May 14, 2017, so the terms of the local representatives are deemed to have begun on May 20. This means new representatives must be elected by May 19 (Thursday) so as to avoid a vacuum. By that extension, over 150 local units will become vacant from Friday until new representatives are elected.
“Thursday is the last day of the tenure of the local representatives who were elected from the last elections. There will be a vacuum in those local units that fail to get new sets of representatives by Thursday night,” Yagya Bhattarai, a joint-secretary at the Election Commission who oversees the legal department, told the Post. “Functions of the local governments other than the routine administrative work will be affected.”
The Election Commission has already drawn flak for the snail-paced vote counting.
Commission officials say the vote count is tedious mainly in the places with high numbers of voters and candidates. According to them, the commission was aware of the time-consuming vote counting process and that’s why it had initially proposed local elections at one go on April 27 and if they were to be held in two phases, on April 27 and May 5.
The Sher Bahadur Deuba government, however, on February 7 announced local elections for May 13, creating a small window between voting and results.
Legal experts say the root cause of the problem is not allowing the Election Commission to announce the election dates on its own.
“Neither our constitution nor any law envisions a vacuum at the local level. Creating a vacuum is a violation of the constitution and law,” senior advocate Dinesh Tripathi, chairperson of Constitutional Lawyers’ Forum, told the Post. “This may not give rise to a serious legal crisis but attention should have been paid to such issues also, no matter how trivial they look.”
He says there will always be an uncertainty in the election dates as long as the prerogative to announce polls is reserved for the government instead of the Election Commission.
Clause 3(1) of the Election Commission Act 2017 states that the government fixes election dates in consultation with the Election Commission.
Tripathi said neither the government nor the commission has learned lessons from the past that vote counting takes time in Nepal because the country still conducts elections using paper ballots.
For instance, it took 17 days last time to complete the counting of votes in Kathmandu Metropolitan City. Some 30 percent of the vote count has been completed by Thursday in the metropolis.
Given the pace of counting in Kathmandu, where around 190,000 voters have cast their ballots, results are unlikely even in a week. Besides Kathmandu, other metropolitan cities with large numbers of voters are Biratnagar, Birgunj, Bharatpur, Lalitpur and Pokhara.
There are 11 sub-metropolitan cities which too have voters in large numbers. As of Thursday night, results of only two sub-metropolitan cities—Ghorahi (Dang) and Jitpur (Bara)—were out.
“Either the election dates should have been announced earlier or the Election Commission should have made arrangements to complete counting within a week,” said Tripathi.
Advocate Mohan Acharya, a constitutional lawyer, said along with long-term decisions, recommendations for citizenship or for selling land and other government tasks will be affected until local units get the elected representatives.
“While I agree that the government could have announced elections giving at least 15 days until the tenure expires, arrangements should have been made for concluding vote counting within a week,” said Acharya. “Nothing stops the commission from counting the ballots from all the wards simultaneously by establishing separate counters for each of them. The way the vote count is being done shows we are still in the medieval age.”
Observers have long said the sluggish vote counting has necessitated discussions to revisit the existing election process. According to them, it’s already too late for Nepal to adopt an electronic voting system, which will save time and resources.
“Failing to install new representatives within the constitutionally and legally mandated deadline creates problems for service seekers, just as sluggish vote counting also affects the country, as people tend to focus on results,” said Kapil Shrestha, chairperson of National Election Observation Committee. “It is already too late to shift to electronic voting machines.”