CA elections: Need for comprehensive monitoring

T he Interim Constitution (IC) was amended for the second time on June 13 with the purpose of holding constituent assembly (CA) polls by mid-November in place of mid-June as stipulated in the original IC. Ironically, the CA polls could not be held on time for several reasons, including the delay in giving the interim constitution, lack of up-to-date electoral rolls, absence of laws related to conduct of elections and adverse security condition in the country. In reality, lack of coordination between the constituents of the eight-party alliance for want of mutual confidence is the main cause for the postponement.

Interestingly, the CA elections should not be monitored on a routine basis (as parliamentary elections were monitored in the past) by national and international monitors. Traditionally, several national monitoring bodies were formed for the purpose. But of late, international organisations also started doing it with keen interest. In the same vein, the UN is doing its best to fulfil its commitment in Nepal. Accordingly, a high-level five-member expert monitoring team of Dr Rafael Lopez Pintor (team leader, Spain), Ayman Ayoub (Syria), Stefanie Luthy (Switzerland), Antonio Reis (Brazil) and Bong-Scuk Sohn (Republic of Korea) is in the country to assess the electoral process. After meeting the stakeholders, the team will report back the condition on ground to the UN Secretary General. This is, of course, its first visit out of four. Meanwhile, the high-profile four-day visit of the ex-US president, Jimmy Carter, has just ended. Carter met PM Koirala twice, apart from other top leaders of the seven-party alliance (SPA) and the Maoists.

Regretfully, the CA election monitoring is generally being seen as a monitoring of any other election. No doubt, CA polls will resemble other elections in some ways. But in the present context of Nepal, it assumes an added significance. It is not being held in a normal course as is usually done in countries around the world to draft and pass new constitutions. Ironically, neither the political parties nor the Election Commissions (EC) considers this difference important.

In Nepal, CA polls was necessitated in order to bridge the gap between the insurgents and the SPA, which would, in turn, restore peace in the country after a decade-long insurgency. It is indeed an outcome of peace initiatives taken by the SPA and the Maoists. In course of time, some other stakeholders have also stepped in. It is imperative now for the eight-party government to look into the genuine demands of the new entrants as well.

It is customary in our country to monitor elections on polling days alone. If there are no complaints lodged against anyone on polling day, the election is supposed to have been monitored as free and fair, even if rigging has taken place on a mass scale on mutual understanding of the polling agents. In reality, an election is a long process starting with the registration of the voters to the publication of final results. The phase of registration is over, but there is still a long way to go. As an example, the posting of polling officers at the polling booths has been a matter of strategy for candidates. Candidates hope to get leverage from

loyal polling officials in case an undue favour is required. For this simple reason, every party wants to remain in power at the time of election.

The number and site of the polling booths are other aspects to be monitored. They suit the interest of the candidates at times. The more the number of booths, the more peaceful polling will be. In the past, due to insurgency, the number of polling booths was reduced considerably and polling was conducted in two phases to provide security on polling days.

Presently, it is the duty of the observers to see to it that the number of polling booths is increased so that in no case over 500-600 voters are allowed to gather at one place. If this is done, the polling will definitely be peaceful and the percentage of voting will also go up significantly. Since it is CA election, voter participation needs to be enhanced for its greater acceptability among people.

Monitoring CA polls in isolation will not only be meaningless but totally disastrous. The task is to monitor the whole peace process simultaneously. If everything is managed satisfactorily by the EC but the peace process gets stuck, and consequently, law and order situation deteriorates, all efforts will come to a naught.

Similarly, if the demands of other stakeholders like indigenous nationalities, Dalits and Madhesis are not met on time, it will be difficult to hold elections.

Alarmingly, if they boycott the elections, the very purpose of CA polls will be defeated with more than 30-40% voters out of the electoral exercise. In such a case, it will be morally as well as legally unfair to hold the CA elections. It is, therefore, advisable to ensure monitoring of the peace process even as the polling process is underway.

Prof. Mishra is ex-election commissioner