Elections now They will not reflect popular mandate

Birendra P Mishra:

Prime Minister Deuba has obtained the backing of his party in favour of election in spite of severe opposition from his colleagues. However, to take approval of the party was an easy job for him, but to get green signal from the CPN-UML would be a tedious task. It seems that if the Maoists do not come for talks with the government till January 13 — the last date for holding talks — the government will go ahead with announcing the election date.

Holding periodic elections is the backbone of democracy. Naturally, no argument could be put forward against conducting elections. To some, if elections are possible in Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir, why not elections in Nepal? In this connection, it should be remembered that Karzai was to be made president in Afghanistan at any cost to begin an elected rule by the United States that overthrew the Taliban regime. Moreover, the entire country was an electoral constituency in the presidential election where low voting in some parts does not carry much weight. Even in Kashmir region only the border areas are more affected by insurgency. Isn’t ours an entirely different case?

First of all, most parts of the country are insurgency-hit. Even the capital is very responsive to the calls of the Maoists. Secondly, election only for election’s sake will not serve the purpose, as an election must be free, fair and peaceful. Thirdly, an election is not a one-day job consisting of only a polling day affair. It is a long process starting with the preparation of the electoral rolls to the counting of votes and announcement of the results. At times, a designated court too interferes in the announcement of the final result. Fourthly, an election consists of four major factors — voters, candidates or political parties, voting managers and peaceful condition or level playing field. Any fruitful discussion about election should be based on the above-mentioned factors.

In a democracy the voters are the most important factor as they choose people to rule them by exercising the franchise. Hence, every adult’s name has to be included in the voters list by making electoral rolls up-to-date invariably before an election. It is reported that in recent years enumeration of voters has not been carried out in the villages. Enumerators have prepared electoral rolls at district headquarters as the VDC secretaries — the enumerators appointed by the Election Commission (EC) — were not allowed to visit their villages by the insurgents. The majority of the youth too have fled their villages either to take shelter in the district headquarters or in the capital or to cross over to India for safety and to earn their bread and butter. Hence, it would be foolish to anticipate that a voter will reach his or her village to cast vote at the risk of his or her life.

Furthermore, for the forced displaced voters, alternate arrangement has to be made for facilitating them in exercising their franchise. Since the voting right of more than three million voters is at stake, it would be impossible to provide opportunity to them in a limited time frame.

The second factor is the candidacy that a candidate offers. If there is no candidate there will be no election. If there is only one candidate, he will be elected unopposed. So, in an election, there must be more than one candidate, whether he or she is an independent or a nominee of a political party. If major political parties decide not to participate in the proposed election, there would be a few candidates in the fray limiting the choice of the voter on the one hand and any disruptive moves by the Maoists to abduct a few of them will definitely jeopardise the whole electoral process on the other. Most probably, only those candidates will be elected whom the guns of the Maoists or the army will back. Therefore, people’s mandate will remain a far cry.

The third factor consists of those people who are connected with the whole poll process right from the EC to the lower levels of officials. Apart from the 205 officers drawn from the judiciary and the Ministry of Law and Justice, more than 60,000 civil servants are deputed to manage the polls. If they fail to turn up for their job under Maoist order, the entire electoral process will collapse. It would be very challenging to make available the ballot boxes and ballot papers in far off places on time.

The fourth factor is very crucial which is related to the overall condition of the country where polling will take place. It appears that the government has failed to establish its existence beyond district headquarters. Adequate security can be arranged by reducing the number of the polling booths and that too in several phases. But it would be a Herculean task to provide proper security to all candidates till results are out. We have 30 days mandated time for election campaign where as in India it has been reduced to two weeks from three weeks. In Bangladesh, election campaign covers 23 days while in Sri Lanka it extends from three weeks to seven weeks. It would be difficult for international and national observers to observe the fairness of election when freedom of movement is curtailed by a single call of the Maoists.

It is, therefore, very difficult to hold free and fair election at this juncture. It appears that the decision of dissolving the House about two and a half years ago was a hasty decision taken in confusion and again now calling for the election under the shadow of guns will definitely make the confusion worse.

Prof Mishra is a former election commissioner