Provincial poll declaration should be provinces’ prerogative, observers sayFederalism yet to be embraced in a true sense with the centralised mindset refusing to go.
Even after Nepal adopted a federal set-up, envisioning three tiers of polls to elect three levels of government, it has yet to change some election laws.
The Constitution of Nepal envisions all three tiers of government as parallel entities with each of them empowered to function independently.
When the government on August 4 announced the date to elect a new House of Representatives, it clubbed the decision for seven provincial assemblies also.
Section 6 of the Provincial Assembly Election Act says the Nepal government, in consultation with the Election Commission, announces the dates for the provincial assembly elections.
The act was endorsed by parliament in September 2017.
The question, however, is why the federal government announces provincial elections when provinces are envisioned as independent entities.
Though the constitutional provision allows provincial governments to announce snap polls, it doesn’t say anything as to who announces the election dates when there are periodic elections.
As per Article 168 (7) of the constitution, the chief of the province, (governor) on the recommendation of the chief minister, dissolves the provincial assembly and announces that elections are to be held within six months, if there is no prospect of forming another government.
Observers say even after practising federalism for almost five years, politicians and lawmakers have failed to streamline the federal structure.
According to them, the passing of the Act on provincial elections reeks of the centralised mindset as decisions have been kept for the federal government in Kathmandu to make.
Mohan Lal Acharya, a constitutional lawyer, said it might look pragmatic as the elections are being held on time but there has been a breach of authority of the provinces by the federal government.
“We have to accept the laws and even the constitution has been prepared with a view to having the federal government’s supremacy over other governments,” he told the Post. “The federal government should not have the authority to fix the date for provincial assembly elections.”
According to him, the provision was fine for the first time as there were no provincial governments in place.
But provincial governments were installed after the 2017 elections, and new laws should have been made in line with the principles of federalism.
The seven provincial assemblies and governments, as envisioned in the 2015 constitution, came into existence after the elections were held together with the House of Representatives in November and December 2017.
Experts on federal affairs say the provincial governments have not been able to function effectively, even around five years after coming into existence, because the federal government created barriers in different forms.
Khim Lal Devkota, a member of the National Assembly who is an expert on federal affairs, said the announcement of the election for provincial assemblies is a continuation of the attempt to ensure the federal government’s supremacy over provinces.
“Why should the federal government announce provincial assembly elections,” he asked. “Let the provincial governments make their decisions in consultation with the Election Commission.”
The problem, however, is unlike in other democracies like India, in Nepal the government announces polls, not the Election Commission. In India, the central government and state governments must hold parliamentary and assembly elections on the dates set by the Election Commission.
The Election Commission of Nepal on July 6 had recommended elections for November 18, but the government took a month to announce the date. No one knows why the government decided to go for November 20 despite the commission recommending November 18. The government has not offered any reason.
Observers say if provinces get to announce the election dates on their own, they will hold them at a time that is suitable for them. For instance, the right time for the Madhesh Province to hold elections might be different from that of the Karnali Province given the geography and weather, according to them.
Experts on election affairs argue that this jurisdiction row wouldn’t have arisen if the Election Commission had the authority to announce election dates.
Ila Sharma, a former election commissioner, said in India the dates for Lokshabha, Rajya Sabha and Vidhansabha elections are fixed by the Election Commission of India and Nepal also should do the same.
“The constitution provides all the election-related authority to the Election Commission. If the Election Commission had the authority to announce the dates, there wouldn’t have been a question over jurisdiction,” she told the Post.
In 2016, the commission had prepared draft bills of the Acts to guide the elections for different tiers of government with the provisions that it would announce the election dates.
However, the provision was revised by the then government when they were tabled for endorsement in the legislature parliament in May 2017.
Currently, the commission is preparing a draft of an umbrella Act for the different levels of election.
“We have even prescribed the exact dates for elections of all three tiers of government in the draft bill,” Yagya Bhattarai, a joint secretary at the commission, told the Post. “There won’t be confusion over the dates if the bill is endorsed as per our suggestions.”
Chances of the bill getting endorsed by the current House, however, are slim.
Officials say if the bill is endorsed by this House or the next one, the new Act will make things clear about elections and their dates.
Political experts say a lot of time and energy has been spent in debating the election dates which wouldn’t have been the case if there were fixed dates for the elections.
“The election dates should be written in the constitution itself like in the United States and some other countries. That will end the confusion over election dates which arises every five years,” Sanjeev Humagain, who teaches political theory at the Tribhuvan University, told the Post. “The parties should amend the constitution with the election dates which will also end the jurisdiction row.”