Presidential election Undermining EC’s role

Elections to decide two highest posts of the state, its president and vice-president respectively, were successfully completed under Two-Round system of election (TRs). Thankfully, the whole process ended after just two rounds of voting. Had Nepali Congress candidate Dr. Ram Baran Yadav failed to garner a majority in the second round, as had happened in the first round of voting, third and fourth rounds would have been necessitated. But the process could have ended after only a round of voting if a provision had been made to declare the candidate with the largest number of votes the winner, irrespective of the percentage that person polled, as is the custom in presidential systems.

Election experts define TRs as a plurality/majority system in which a second round of election is held if no candidate or party achieves a given number of votes, or a specified percentage, which is most commonly an absolute majority (50 per cent plus one), in the first round. In this way, the first round can be called the majority round. TRs turns into a plurality round from second round of balloting. When two or more than two candidates contest the second round, the one who wins the highest number of votes is declared elected, regardless of whether he has won an absolute majority or not.

According to a study, over 75 countries have adopted TRs for electing presidents. Of course, there is no uniformity with regard to the adaptation to majority run-off and majority-plurality rules. It varies anywhere between 40 per cent and 55 per cent even for the first round. Since Nepal has followed absolute majority system even in the second round, the result provided additional legitimacy to the election and the elected candidate, which was of course not normally required under TRs.

During the entire electoral process, the conspicuous absence of the Election Commission (EC) from the fray has got the people talking. It is perplexing that a constitutional body like Election Commission which has been established only to hold elections right from parliament down to the Village Development Committee level, was not entrusted with the constitutional duty to conduct, supervise and direct the electoral process for the highest post in the country.

It can be argued that since there is no provision in the Interim Constitution authorising the EC to conduct presidential election, the EC remained a passive spectator. But it seems to be a lame argument. It is certainly true that initially there was no such provision in the Interim Constitution regarding the election of the president and the vice president.

Through several amendments to the Interim Constitution, the country was declared a republic and such amendments were made in the Interim Constitution so as to provide for creation of posts of president and vice president. The provision for elections was also incorporated. There is no reason why the role of EC could not have been outlined in the IC at the same time -- as it is customary for EC to conduct elections for these two posts.

It will be interesting to find out why the EC was sidelined and its role overlooked or deliberately ignored by the members of the Constituent Assembly and especially by the major political parties who have played decisive roles in amending the constitution five times in the past. Are the major political parties not satisfied with the functioning of the EC or are they unhappy with the performance of the Election Commissioners during the discharging of their duties in course of the Constituent Assembly election?

It will be equally intriguing to know if the commissioners had reminded the political parties to amend the constitution to incorporate EC’s function to hold such elections in the country -- as is the normal practice in other democratic countries.

It may be added that in the original Constituent Assembly Members Election Act, the function of the EC was blatantly overlooked, while even the form of the ballot papers was provisioned in the Act. However, after much public outcry, the Act was suitably amended. Additionally, the Election Commission had no role in declaring the result of winning candidates under Proportional Representation (PR) system. The closed lists were changed by political parties thrice, a procedure followed nowhere else in the world.

The Election Commission has been conducting elections to the upper house under the 1990 constitution by appointing the office bearers as and when required. The current practice is a clear departure from tradition and precedent. Hence, some people feel that since the prestige of EC has been lowered by its sidelining from the whole election process, the election commissioners should immediately tender their resignations en block against this disrespect for the constitutional body. The one and only duty of EC should not be hijacked in the days to come.

Mishra is ex-election commissioner