In a democracy, the participation of eligible voters in polls is a must. In Europe, 80 to 90 per cent of voters cast their ballots. In contrast, the turn out in developing countries is low. Nepal has witnessed a healthy participation of voters in both parliamentary and local elections despite low awareness. Nonetheless, many votes are wasted due to technical errors during balloting.
After the King gave up state power last April, the country has been possessed by the sole goal of holding constitution assembly (CA) elections. The Election Commission has started registering voters. Reportedly, there has been a 15 per cent hike in the number of voters and 1,000 voters are expected per centre. But are the existing voting centres convenient and accessible to all? Will every eligible voter be able to cast his ballot privately and independently?
Most service centres like public places, schools and VDC buildings are not established according to the population size and ease of accessibility. While large groups of Dalit and ethnic communities reside in the hills and mountains, most public centres are located in the plains. The same locations, when used as polling centres, will create accessibility problem. Similar situation is present in the Tarai. As a result, thousands have not been able to vote. Geographical accessibility has a huge bearing on the likelihood of individuals to vote. The further the distance of voting booths, the lesser the likelihood of peopleâ€™s participation. Hence, accessibility should be kept in mind while deciding on voting centres.
Lack of awareness regarding the CA polls presents another hurdle. A study shows that only a handful is acquainted with the CA elections. Therefore, the government and the parties should initiate mass awareness campaigns to educate the public on the value of voting. Registration in the votersâ€™ list is also important. The main onus to register voters in rural areas lie with the VDC secretaries. But due to their personal and political bias, political pressure and technical shortcomings, many voters did not get a chance to vote in the past elections.
During election time, some election officers postpone the polls even over minor disputes. Hence, they need to be trained well.
Security will pose another challenge. Recently, the chief election commissioner has raised the effectiveness of deploying only 11,000 security personnel in polling stations. If so, one polling station will get only three security officials. People need to feel safe while casting their votes. Similarly, it is vital to make special arrangements for older people, voters with disabilities, and those with language difficulties and low literacy level. People should also know how to register themselves, information on how voters can determine the location of polling centres, vote timings, information on alternative voting, and proper use of voting system. It is the government and other concerned bodiesâ€™ job to ensure that a conducive environment is created for broader participation of the voters to make the CA polls successful.