Electoral alliances add to the voters’ confusionVoters supporting alliance candidates will need to cast ballots on different symbols for candidates and the political parties.
The ballot papers for May 13 local elections had election symbols of all the parties registered for participating in the polls irrespective of whether or not they had their candidates standing in the respective local units.
As the Nepali Congress, the CPN (Maoist Centre), the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha had formed a poll alliance, they had fielded common candidates in close to half the local units. Similarly, the CPN-UML too had partnered with the Rastriya Prajatantra Party in some local units.
Yet, the ballot papers had election symbols of parties that didn’t have their candidates for a particular position in a particular local unit. A voter in the local elections could cast votes to elect seven officials, including the mayor and deputy mayor or chairperson and the vice-chairperson.
That, according to the commission and the election observers, was one of the reasons behind the high invalid votes in the local elections. Following a complex voting process due to alliance politics, voters got confused resulting in hundreds of thousands of votes going to parties which hadn’t even fielded candidates in many constituencies.
In some of the local units like the Biratnagar Metropolitan City, the average invalid votes were as high as 24 percent. The average invalid vote in dozens of local units was above 10 percent.
Pradip Pokharel, chairperson of the Election Observation Committee, Nepal said the alliance politics has made the voting process complex because one voter has to vote on more than one election symbol if he or she wishes to vote for the candidate of the parties in alliance.
A voter can cast four votes—one each for the first-past-the-post and the proportional representation system in both the lower house and provincial assembly elections.
The Election Commission has prepared a white ballot paper with red symbols for the first-past-the-post elections for the House of Representatives as well as for the provincial assembly elections. Similarly, there will be white ballot papers with black symbols for the proportional representation elections for the lower house and provincial assemblies.
The parties in the alliance will have to request the voters to cast their one vote for one party, next to the other and the votes under the proportional category to yet another party as they conduct their publicity campaign.
For instance, in Dang-1, the five-party alliance has fielded Metmani Chaudhary from the Unified Socialist as a common candidate under the first-past-the-post seat for the House of Representatives, while the CPN (Maoist Centre)’s Indrajit Chaudhary is the alliance’s candidate from Dang-1 (a) for the Lumbini Provincial Assembly. The Nepali Congress, the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, and the Rastriya Janamorcha don’t have their candidates in the constituency. However, in Dang-1 (a), the leaders and cadres from all the five parties in the alliance that are preparing to hold joint publicity campaigns will have to request the voters to vote on their respective election symbols under the proportional representation elections while seeking votes for Metmani and Indrajit for the direct elections.
“We fear that the voters could get confused as all five parties will be seeking votes for themselves under the proportional representation system, despite launching joint publicity campaigns,” Yogendra Chaudhary, a Nepali Congress central working committee member from the constituency, told the Post. “We are worried that many proportional votes could become invalid. However, we will try our best to make it easier for the voters.”
In an attempt to lessen invalid votes, the ballot papers for the first-past-the-post elections will have the election symbols of only those parties that have candidates. However, for proportional representation, the ballot papers will have election symbols of all the parties that have been registered for the elections.
As all five parties will be seeking votes for themselves, there are possibilities that the voters will cast votes for more than one party under the proportional representation system.
“I see the chances of people getting confused while voting under the proportional representation category,” said Pokharel. “However, the voting process isn’t as complex as it was at the local level.”
As many 17,988,570 voters will decide the fate of 2,526 candidates contesting for the 165 first-past-the-post seats of the House of Representative and 3,476 candidates who are in the fray for the 330 provincial assembly seats. Similarly, their votes under the proportional representation category will elect 110 and 22o members for the lower house and provincial assemblies, respectively. As per the commission’s records, the voter number has increased by 254,847 from the May 13 local elections. Compared to the 2017 general elections, the voter number has increased by 2.56 million.
The complex voting process, according to an election observer, will particularly confuse the first-time voters. New voters say the voting process indeed is confusing due to the alliance politics.
“When I voted in the local elections a few months back, I wished the voting process for the general elections would be easier,” Suman Giri, 19, from Gadhawa Rural Municipality ward-4 in Dang, told the Post. “As the parties have begun electioneering, I found that it is going to be equally confusing this time as well.”