Poll talksElection laws should undergo periodic changes to keep pace with time and socio-political developments in the country
The election of the President and Vice President to be held after the promulgation of the constitution has compelled me to share recent events regarding electoral reform dialogues.
Following the 2013 Constituent Assembly (CA) and June 22 by-elections, it is necessary to review the current election laws based on past experiences and views shared by representatives of the Election Observation Coordination Group as national observers to enhance the quality of elections. The report submitted jointly by the National Election Observation Committee, European Union, and Carter Center suggests the need for the reform of electoral laws.
In August, the National Democratic Institute and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems jointly organised regional workshops on electoral reform in five development regions and a national conference in September in Kathmandu. I was involved in a series of events as one of the taskforce members to moderate a dialogue on electoral reforms.
The objectives of the events were to facilitate a constructive dialogue at a regional and national level among electoral stakeholders, to generate viable recommendations for reform, and review electoral laws along with political party laws to strengthen the Election Commission of Nepal (ECN) to take reform initiatives for future elections, and to provide solid justification for future funding.
Voting rights of the excluded
The major issues in the existing electoral system are a lack of strong electoral laws and their implementation, lack of a regular monitoring mechanism, and an unstable political milieu. Electoral provisions to address the voting rights of those Nepalis living in foreign countries or with no fixed abode or in prison, of refugees, internally displaced persons, the disabled, the elderly, and of those in remote areas or in hospitals need to be ensured through the introduction of electoral provisions of in-person, absentee, postal or pre-poll (early) voting, using electronic medium, or by providing special voter information facilities.
The electoral process has to be reformed to ensure greater transparency and deter misconduct during elections and also to ensure 33 percent women’s representation in politics, along with the inclusion of Dalits, Madhesis, indigenous peoples, and other marginalised groups. Seventeen of the 26 appointments to the Constituent Assembly (CA) neither have meaningful participation of indigenous people nor a gender balance. Therefore, criteria or a threshold should be implemented for the inclusion of marginalised groups to support the growth of democracy.
Codified laws should be built for free and fair elections. A code of conduct should bind both the election commission and political parties. Monitoring should be carried out on the basis of need.
Need for autonomy
ECN officials have suggested that election laws should undergo periodic changes to keep pace with time and socio-political developments in the country. Electoral reforms will seek to correct and improve the impediments to access, eligibility, and transparency. Questions have been raised regarding the autonomy of the Election Commission in fixing the date of election either by itself or the government. The representatives also voiced their demand to make a provision in the constitution about the national election date. Without autonomy, the ECN cannot make the election process effective. The rationale for electoral system reform refers to the nature and structure of the institutions engaged in the electoral system. Parties in power want elections when the situation suits them and propose election dates at their convenience. This was evident in the last two CA elections.
Regional and national level events on electoral reform dialogues are significant to engage relevant stakeholders in the advancement of critical electoral reform discussions. The recommendations provided in such events will help minimise existing problems and follow democratic norms. The present restructuring process of the country, such as election of the President and Vice-President, constitution-making, and other affairs need to be based on democratic principles. To build the faith of people, the aforementioned recommendations will help build consensus on electoral reform and draft electoral laws that can have broad effects on strategies, policies, and procedures of the electoral process.
Subba Dewan is an associate professor and an advocate