If the mid-term polls were to be conducted, Nepal has to bank upon orthodox polling practices, as the country lacks the technological tools for voting by mail, like the USA. And not having a robust health care system, the country can bear the same ill-fate as India, which was ravaged by the pandemic right after the election
Until and unless the Supreme Court (SC) reinstates the Lower House for further proceedings, the country will witness the snap polls on November 12 and 19. In this regard, a question looms large, whether the country needs an election at such a time when the coronavirus pandemic is ravaging the country and has already exposed the fragile health system? It is apparent that the dissolution of the House came through without going through the government formation processes of Articles 76 (1) 76 (2) 76 (3) and 76 (5), which seem unconstitutional. Nevertheless, the constitutional bench of the SC will decide the fate of the House of Representatives; however, if the slated mid-term polls were to happen, voters are likely to remain sceptical about their participation, as they have already witnessed the horrific phase of the second wave of the pandemic.
The country is struggling to provide beds and manage the supply of oxygen in the hospitals with cases of patients needing critical and intensive care still surging. With speculations of a third wave, likely to be even more dangerous that may totally ravage the creaky health care system, and with the election approaching, the fatalities can be immense.
The Prime Minister, who recommended dissolving the House prematurely after failing to comply with the floor test on May 10, claimed at a press conference that elections are mandatory despite the unfavourable conditions and circumstances.
He cited examples of the USA and southern neighbour India – which conducted the polls amidst the pandemic – in order to give a cloak to his unconstitutional move.
In this regard, the comparisons sound faulty, keeping the situation and nature of the election these countries conducted. Talking about the 2020 United States election, it was the quadrennial – full-term presidential election. And the USA struggled to hold the elections as many events or rallies were cancelled.
The Democratic Party presidential debates, which were prominent for establishing the political stance of the parties, were held without audiences. Some political analysts even claimed that all these restrictions coupled with the effects of the pandemic had unpredictable effects, and even questioned the legitimacy of the election.
The USA with the best postal services in the world covered only three-fourths of the population voting by mail, and faced several issues like long lines at the polling booths on the election day.
The Indian example, regarding the elections held in four states and a union territory in late March and April, cannot be exemplary, as the aftermath of the damage has already starting showing with a rise in the number of cases and infection clusters across the county. India slid into a devastating crisis after a sudden surge right after the polls. With the cases increasing by numerous folds, whether the election was necessary or not is being mulled over.
Amid the vote count, India was setting records after record numbers of deaths related to the coronavirus.
The Madras High Court even slammed the Election Commission for not being able to stop big rallies and crowded election campaigns, flouting the coronavirus protocols.
Had this been a full-term election, the benefit of the doubt could be given as Article 93 of the Constitution of Nepal stipulates that the sessions of the Federal Parliament must be summoned by the President without having a gap of more than six months between two consecutive sessions, or a constitutional crisis may arise.
If the mid-term polls were to be conducted, Nepal has to bank upon orthodox polling practices, as the country lacks technological tools for online voting or voting by mail, like the USA. And not having a robust health care system, the country can bear the same ill-fate as India, which was ravaged by the pandemic right after the election.
Nepal's faltering jab campaign is not turning the tide in its favour, where less than 3 per cent of the population is fully inoculated, and it is not certain the reach could be made to all before the election.
Also, failed policies and diplomacy are restricting Nepal to make the vaccines available, as the current situation shows that 1.3 million elderly people aged 65+ are uncertain about the second dose of the vaccine despite paying the full amount for one million doses to the Serum Institute of India.
The reliance on India for vaccines cannot be justified as the country itself has shown its dependency on foreign vaccines like Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson.
The country itself is struggling as only 3 per cent of the country's 1.3 billion people have been fully vaccinated, the lowest rate among the 10 counties with the most cases.
Also, China's non-disclosure agreement and dearer vaccine prices can add barriers to the procurement.
Also these vaccines are limited to certain age brackets, not a good sign when Nepal will be looking to contain the spread of virus with the nearing election.
In the rich countries, they are vaccinating one person every second while majority of the poor nations are yet to give a single dose, and Nepal is no exception.
In such a scenario, how can the people feel fully assured to cast their votes in the mid-term polls though the verdict still hangs in the balance in the SC? Voters cannot be convinced just by making comparisons with other countries. Many factors need to be analysed, like eminency, relevancy and predictability.
The mid-term elections can be a double whammy at a time when the country is struggling to provide the necessary health care and new records of infections are being set every day, and with experts warning about a more lethal third wave,.
Nevertheless, if the election were to happen, it would require an unprecedented level of scrutiny as it is not hard to predict that the turnout would be less, and the consequences would be unmanageable as more than 60 countries are thinking about postponing their local and national elections, as stated by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.
A version of this article appears in the print on July 2 2021, of The Himalayan Times.