Canvassing allowed from 17 days before vote. Leaders, experts call it impracticalGiven the practice of 48-hour election silence, candidates will get just 15 days if the code of conduct is followed.
Picture this: Candidates for upcoming polls file their nominations on October 8-9, as the Election Commission is planning and the final list is published by October 20. Then after, for two weeks, candidates need to stay at home; they cannot go out and campaign.
The Election Commission’s code of conduct published in Nepal Gazette on Monday says candidates can begin their publicity campaigns only 17 days prior to the polling date.
Since polls have been announced for November 20, candidates can start their campaigns only from November 3.
Clause 13 (1Y) of the code of conduct states that the candidates can do the following acts of publicity beginning 17 days prior to the polling day counting since the final list of the candidates is made public: 1. Marches, mass gatherings, corner gatherings; 2. Broadcasting or publishing any publicity materials in media and 3. Door-to-door campaigns.
But questions have arisen how practical it would be.
In general, the code of conduct comes into effect 35 days prior to the poll date—which this time could be October 15.
Observers and political party leaders wonder if candidates will wait until November 3 to start their campaigns.
“Today, I gave a stump speech. Did I violate the code of conduct?” asked Subas Nembang, a vice-chairman of the CPN-UML, the main opposition party. “I have not seen the code of conduct but our party’s team is studying it.”
Bhojraj Pokharel, former chief election commissioner, says candidates won’t wait to start their campaigns once the nomination list is out.
“How will the commission do the monitoring? Candidates can use multiple platforms for their publicity campaigns,” said Pokharel.
According to the commission, the idea behind reducing the duration of electioneering is aimed at bringing down spendings by the candidates amid concerns that politicians are spending a lot of money on the campaign trail.
“All the provisions including the one that candidates can begin publicity only 17 days before the election day were made after consulting the political parties and they have agreed to the provisions,” said Shaligram Sharma Poudel, spokesperson of the Election Commission. “They agreed that less time for publicity campaigns will decrease the chances of overspending.”
Some leaders, who were involved in the discussions with the Election Commission on the provisions of the code of conduct, said they had suggested that the commission give candidates less time for publicity campaigns so as to reduce their spendings.
“We had suggested that there should be some ways to reduce election expenditure,” said Keshav Jha, a leader of the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, who was present at the meeting on August 22 called by the Election Commission to discuss the code of conduct. “But this provision of 17 days alone cannot control spendings.”
While the commission’s intention seems to be right amid concerns that candidates are spending a lot more than they are allowed by the rules, the 17-day provision seems to be impractical.
“This is an extremely impractical provision,” said Shalikram Jammarkattel, a minister of Bagmati Provincial government and politburo member of the CPN (Maoist Centre). “Not only the provision on electioneering, there are more impractical provisions which we cannot implement.”
Jammarkattel said as soon as the candidates’ nominations are finalised, they will hit the campaign trail regardless of what the Election Commission says.
“Many of the provisions of the election code of conduct are not implementable,” he said.
Clause 46(1) of the code of conduct says that those violating the code can be fined Rs100,000 or face cancellation of the candidacy as per the Election Commission Act.
Some other party leaders said the Election Commission should also make the provision of 13 (1Y) more clear as it is confusing as to what the candidates are allowed to do and not allowed to do.
Nepali Congress leader Pradip Poudel, who is eyeing to contest the November 20 House of Representatives elections from Tanahun-2, said the code of conduct allowing candidates fewer days for publicity campaign is unclear and needs further clarity.
“It’s not clear whether we can use media for publicity and what kind of activities are restricted,” Poudel told the Post. “Since there is confusion, this provision should be defined further for clarity to make it practical.”
Poudel wondered what happens to candidates if they give interviews to the media between the date publication of the final candidate list and November 3.
“Unless it is defined properly it cannot be implemented,” he said.
Even if the 17-day provision is kept intact, and hypothetically every candidate follows it duly, there will be only 15 days for the candidates to do their publicity campaigns in actuality.
As per the tradition, there will be a 48-hours silence-period before the polling starts, which will mean candidates have to stop publicity campaigns on November 3.
The provision of the silence period, however, has also been questioned by some, as they say in this day and age where people have access to social media and other platforms to do campaigns.
Other aspiring candidates said the commission’s intention may be good as it aims to control spending, the 15-day period for campaign is neither practical nor implementable. According to them, some politicians who are confident about getting the ticket have actually already started their campaigns and they would not wait for the publication of the final list.
“Making an attempt with an intention to reduce the election spending is a welcome move but I don’t think the Election Commission can control publicity by the candidates once the final list is published,” said Hemraj Bhandari, a politburo member of the Maoist Centre who is planning to run for a parliamentary seat from Dhankuta. “How can the commission stop candidates from electioneering until a certain period after the final list is published and their candidacy is confirmed.”
Bhandari said the poll body has no mechanism to track candidates and candidates tend not to follow the code of conduct because it has never taken action against anyone.
Election Commission Spokesperson Poudel, however, said that they believe all the provisions in the code of conduct are practical and implementable and that they have been designed in consultation with the parties.
But there are some who smell a rat.
A UML leader said the commission may be trying to create a situation for the coalition to manage their candidates.
“The provision with a period between the date of publishing the final list of candidates and the date of starting publicity could have been designed to manage the rebel candidates of the ruling coalition,” said Prithvi Subba Gurung, deputy general secretary and publicity department head of the UML. “Why would candidates not engage in campaigns once they have decided to contest the polls?”
According to Surya Prasad Aryal, assistant spokesperson for the commission, they are preparing to publish the election schedule for the direct election system in such a way that nomination of the candidates will begin from October 8 or 9.
“There will be at least one month's time for the candidates after the commission publishes its final list of candidates,” said Aryal. “They can only begin publicity 17 days before the polling date.”
Experts and observers say just a good intention is not enough until the provisions are practical and implementable, saying what’s the point of making people wait for certain hours before eating when the dinner is ready and in front of them.
Neil Kantha Uprety, also a former chief election commissioner, said although the provision may have some positive intentions, it could be self-defeating for the Election Commission because it cannot monitor the activities of candidates.
“I think this provision will be limited to paper as the commission cannot implement it,” said Uprety. “Concerns from political parties to reduce publicity time is not new. But the commission should have managed it properly.”