By issuing unrealistic directives just when the polls are around the corner, the EC is looking very naïve

With the local level polls just six weeks away, the Election Commission (EC) has issued new directives that require candidates vying for civic posts to submit affidavits that state they are not involved in any commercial activity. The new directive that tends to bar anyone involved in commercial lease/rental, contractual business, or sale and purchase of movable or immovable property at the local level from contesting the local level polls on May 13 is likely to kick up a storm. The Chief Election Commissioner is said to have incorporated the provision to ensure that there is good governance and governance based on morality. Seemingly, the provision has been incorporated to prevent any conflict of interest as well as policy level corruption because a large number of elected representatives of the local levels were found to be owning dozers, which were used in haphazard construction of roads across the rural areas, even where unnecessary, causing untold destruction of the environment.

The new EC directive could have been justified for people receiving a salary or allowance from the government, as argued by former Chief Election Commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety. But the provision to bar people who have a business, especially construction or leasing and rentals, from contesting the local elections sounds ridiculous. This too at the eleventh hour when candidates from various political parties as well as independents are about to embark on their election campaign.

The directive is thus likely to be challenged in the court, as was an earlier decision taken by the EC.

On March 17, the EC had issued a 78-page election code of conduct for the local level polls, requiring the aspiring elected representatives to resign from their posts before filing their nomination papers. With the EC setting April 24 and 25 as the dates for filing the nomination papers for the rural and urban municipalities, respectively, this would have meant keeping all 753 local levels without elected officials for 19 days. But the laws say the local levels cannot remain in a vacuum even for a single day. Prior to that, the EC had put a cap on the poll expenditure for the different posts – with a mayoral or deputy mayoral candidate unable to spend more than Rs 7.5 lakhs – which was brushed off as being unrealistic.

Undoubtedly, the EC has taken the latest decision with good intention, thinking that candidates involved in other professions would not engage in the development of the electorate as wholeheartedly as those volunteering to work for the welfare of the community. Had it taken the decision months ahead of the polls, it would have given plenty of time for debate among the electorate as well as the political parties.

By issuing unrealistic directives one after another just when the elections are around the corner, it is making the EC look very naïve. Talking of conflict of interest, there are already promoters of big business houses with investments in a host of sectors, from economic to social, sitting in the House of Representatives.

The EC cannot be taking pre-emptive measures against corruption or conflict of interest as there are other state agencies to tackle them.

Impact of war

The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine since February 24 has had a direct impact on Nepal's mountaineering sector, affecting the country's revenue collection, which in normal times would have crossed more than $30 million a year. As per the Department of Tourism (DoT), only 142 mountaineers have applied to scale 12 mountains during this spring season. Nepal has been facing a double whammy of the coronavirus pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war in a row. There were a total of 742 foreign climbers who had taken permits to climb various mountains, with 408 receiving permits for the 8848.86 m Mt Everest, in the last spring season, the year which was badly affected by the pandemic.

A war fought thousands of miles away from Nepal should not have affected mountaineering activities in the Himalayan region. But it has. No Ukrainian has applied for climbing this year although nine Russians have been given permit to scale three peaks, including Mt Annapurna, despite Ukraine's call for banning Russians from climbing the country's mountains.

Nepal is not a party to the war, but has been directly affected by it, not only in the mountaineering sector, but also in other sectors ranging from energy to food security.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 1, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.