Code of Conduct : EC must crack the whip immediately

The Constituent Assembly (CA) election, which is scheduled to take place on April 10, appears to be a fun festival to some as they are amused by the performances of the main stakeholders, mainly the Prime Minister and the Election Commission (EC). During a meeting on March 16 between the Prime Minster and the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and other Commissioners the Prime Minister was reported to have assured the Election Commissioners (ECs) of holding the election at any cost in a free and fair manner while the latter informed the Prime Minister about the need to improve the law and order situation in the country, which has been deteriorating as the election date is coming nearer. Strangely, the two sides appear to be stepping into each other’s shoes.

Interestingly, the CEC also suggested to the PM the various security measures to be taken by the government as if CEC himself were the home secretary as during the mid-term polls held in 1994. Side by side, he has been advising the formation of a joint machinery of political parties at lower level to facilitate the election. Gradually, the election campaign is getting momentum with the candidates reaching voters on the one hand and complaints of violation of election Code of Conduct (CC) are increasing every other day. The news of aggressive campaign of the Maoists by intimidating voters and thrashing candidates of other political parties during the campaign is coming from the districts like Ramechap, Dhading, Okhaldhunga, Chitwan, Sunsari and Rasua. Candidates are not allowed to campaign freely. Ironically, the major partner in the coalition government, the Nepali Congress has lodged a complaint with the EC about the violation of the code of conduct by government owned media.

It is intriguing as to why the EC appears to be hesitant in taking stern action against the violators. The Election Commission Act, 2007 has empowered the EC under the clause 41(1) to take action directly against the violators, instead of writing to the departments/ministries under clause 41(2). Perhaps, since the EC is justly holding the election to the CA as a part of the peace process, it is reluctant to get harsh towards the violators fearing derailment of the peace process. However, it is a matter of great concern not only for the parties which are contesting election, but also for those who want free and fair polling so that the fairness of the whole electoral exercise is not questioned affecting the peace process adversely. It is the job of the EC to see that the electoral process is completed without losing people’s faith in it.

The implementation of the CC had been a tedious task for the EC in the past. In the first two parliamentary elections, there were violations of CC but those were not so serious as they are today. Especially, with regard to wall writings, during the 1999 election, there was hardly any wall writing as the EC was particular about it with the announcement of the election. The CC was operative with the announcement of the date.

The Election Commission has decided to engage high government officials to monitor the implementation of the CC. It is very difficult for them to come out openly against the politicians with whom they have worked and likely to work in future as well. It is therefore suggested that the Election Commission should think of engaging retired high-ranking officers who are likely to be more neutral while monitoring the electoral process. The Election Commission should have insisted on recruiting ex-security personnel in place of the contractual police force, being recruited by the government. They will be political workers in uniform. Such recruitment was not accepted by the Election Commission during 1999 elections. One should remember that Constituent Assembly election is not a parliamentary election, but an election that would elect a body that will frame a constitution providing the basic source of all laws required for governance. Such an opportunity was not available to the people earlier.

Regretfully, all political parties appear to be treating this election as an election to the House of Representatives (HoR) by nominating only those persons who have better chances to win without considering their capabilities to perform their role in the elected Constituent Assembly. Secondly, the Constituent Assembly election could not be taken as their common agenda as they could not come out with some common points/principles to be followed in course of framing the constitution. Thirdly, they could not reach unanimity on some common political leaders to be elected. Fourthly, they did not agree on some neutral personalities to be represented in the Constituent Assembly who could have been assets while making a new constitution. Ultimately, as the polling is for the Constituent Assembly, the Election Commission must crack its whip to see that the election campaign is peaceful.

Prof Mishra is former election commissioner