Election Commission earns disrepute over communist party legitimacy indecisionThe commission has time and again failed to resist influence despite being a constitutional body, observers say.
Prithvi Man Shrestha
Former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal earlier this Sunday expressed his displeasure at the Election Commission’s ‘indecision’ regarding the complaint that his faction of the ruling CPN-UML had registered at the constitutional body over Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s ‘unilateral’ decision to induct new central committee members.
On March 12, the Oli-led faction had amended the statute of the party giving more power to Oli. On the back of this new-found power, Oli inducted 23 new central committee members, who had defected from the Maoist Centre, and handed them various responsibilities after snatching the same responsibilities from the leaders associated with the Nepal faction.
Emboldened by the Supreme Court’s verdict of March 7 to invalidate the merger between the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre) in 2018, Oli had taken these decisions to strengthen his position in the party.
In response, the Nepal faction of the UML, whose leaders are facing suspension, had registered a letter at the Election Commission on March 14, asking the constitutional body not to recognise the decisions of the Oli faction terming them as being against the UML statute.
The election body is yet to take any decision on the matter. Speaking at a function in Birgunj on Sunday, Nepal said: “A constitutional body like the Election Commission does not take decisions. What can be a bigger contradiction than this?”
This is not the first time that the Nepal faction has accused the Election Commission of indecision.
Ever since the dispute began in the now scrapped Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which was formed after a merger of the UML and the Maoist Centre, the commission has been facing criticism for its perceived indecision from both political parties and other stakeholders.
Many believe the commission failed to take decisions under the influence of Prime Minister Oli, who was in minority in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) before the party was scrapped as per the court order.
The election body’s perceived indecision ultimately worked in favour of Oli, who has an upper hand in the now revived UML.
“It was widely felt that the commission failed to take decision on time regarding the legitimacy dispute in the scrapped Nepal Communist Party (NCP) recently,” said Dolakh Bahadur Gurung, former election commissioner.
“As a constitutional body, it has the authority to take decisions regarding any disputes in political parties such as those related to registration, election symbols and legitimacy. It is the duty of the commission to take timely decisions on the matter once the sides concerned approach the commission.”
Before the court verdict on the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), five former chief commissioners and commissioners of the Election Commission had called for early decision on the legitimacy dispute concerning the ruling party. They had warned that the delay in the decision would affect not only the country’s political process but also the credibility of the election body.
“If the commission loses credibility, people will not believe what it does. It may encourage many people not to follow the rules and take the rules seriously,” said Gurung.
Leader Nepal has once again raised a question about the election body’s intention over the indecision regarding his faction’s letter registered at the commission on March 13.
The commission, however, said that it had nothing to do regarding the complaint of the Nepal faction as the Oli faction has not written to the commission to update the change made by the party.
“Once we get the letter asking us to update any change made by the party, we will see whether the rules have been followed in the decision making process. The letter submitted by the Nepal faction will also be considered,” said Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya.
Irrespective of when the commission takes a decision regarding the matter, leaders of the Nepal faction believe that the election body is under the influence of the government, particularly Oli.
“This is clearly reflected in its indecision regarding the legitimacy dispute of the Nepal Communinst Party (NCP),” said Surendra Pandey, a leader from the Nepal faction, who has also been suspended as a party member by the Oli faction. “The commission has failed to withstand Oli’s move to treat the constitutional bodies like government organs.”
Section 44 (1) of the Political Parties Act-2017 states that a faction that stakes claim to the party, stamp, flag and symbol needs to submit papers with all the documents to the commission along with the signatures of at least 40 percent Central Committee members within 30 days after a dispute arises in the party. After receiving the application, the commission needs to seek a written response from the rival faction by serving a 15-day deadline as per Section 44 (2) of the Act.
But the law has not set any deadline for the commission when it should seek a written response. So, even after one month since the faction led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal in the scrapped Nepal Communist Party (NCP) made legitimacy claims over the party on February 2, the commission didn’t seek any response from the Oli faction.
“If the constitutional bodies like the Election Commission fail to perform their duties independently, it invites lawlessness and people start losing faith in the law and this ultimately weakens democracy,” Pandey said.
The commission officials do not buy the argument that their institution has failed to perform its duty.
Chief Commissioner Thapaliya denied that the commission has delayed a decision on the legitimacy dispute in the now scrapped Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
“Since the law sets no deadline for the commission regarding the legitimacy dispute, the commission takes decisions whenever it deems appropriate,” he said. “The perceived delay of the commission has not hurt anybody.”
But observers say the commission has failed to resist power time and again despite being a constitutional body. While many are questioning if the election body is under the influence of Oli, it had failed to withstand pressure of the power three years ago when it registered the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) led by Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who now chair the Maoist Centre.
“Despite a clear legal provision that a party with the same name cannot be registered again, the commission registered the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) three years ago under pressure from the ruling party. So, not only this time, the commission struggled to take decisions independently then too. Those who pressured the commission to make such decisions are now complaining against the Supreme Court,” said Bipin Adhikari, former dean at Kathmandu University School of Law.
Even though the party named as Nepal Communist Party was already registered by Rishi Kattel at the commission, the constitutional body had provided the same name to the party co-chaired by Oli and Dahal, allegedly under the influence of two powerful leaders of the ruling party.
Kattel, whose claim to the party’s name was rejected by the election body, had to move the Supreme Court, which ultimately gave verdict in his favour.
According to Adhikari, the Election Commission still had an avenue to take ownership of its flawed decisions and ask the UML and the Maoist Centre to come forward with a new name for registering their merged party.
“But the commission appeared to be happy to let the two parties—UML and the Maoist Centre—remain separate and didn’t make an active effort for their remerger although its past decision resulted in the separation of the two parties,” he said.