Writing on the wall

The Election Commission has threatened action if the political parties do not comply with the election code of conduct fully. The EC officials on Saturday held a discussion with the representatives of political parties amid growing allegations of breaches of the code, and directed them to honour the code or face ‘strong action’. Clause 29 of the Election Commission Act 2007 empowers the EC in fining any

candidate or political party up to Rs.100,000 or disqualifying any candidate from contesting the election for up to six years. Of course, the EC is expected to announce the extent of penalty based on the severity of violation, and without fear or favour. The office-bearers should also be seen to do justice in the public eye. Some of the EC officials may have been identified in the past with one or the other political party - as government employees or otherwise — and they need to demonstrate even greater care while making their decisions, in order to avoid possible charges of prejudice or favour.

Among the violations the EC chief, Bhoj Raj Pokhrel, pointed out was the writing of slogans or the pasting of posters on walls. Nearly two weeks ago, the EC had directed the parties to remove the graffiti and banners, but the warning fell on deaf ears. At Saturday’s meeting, representatives of the non-SPA political parties had complained about ‘discrimination’ practised against them by the EC, lack of action against ruling parties for code ‘violations’ and the ‘increasing use’ of the government media to give publicity mainly to the ruling parties. The state media have always come under such criticism often by those who are not in government. However, to make the contents of the manifestos of all parties known to the voters, the EC has, as usual, arranged for their broadcast on the state-owned radio and television.

Graffiti have been prohibited mainly for aesthetic purposes, but this has never succeeded before. Once, after the 1991 general election, the municipal authorities in the capital spent huge sums on this project, but it was soon to prove to be just a money-wasting exercise. This time around, too, it may go the same way. The main focus should, therefore, be on ensuring that all parties and candidates and virtually anybody can take part in the electioneering freely. Close attention should be paid to stopping any activity designed to manipulate the votes or poll outcome, or to checking whether the parties or candidates are exceeding spending limits to buy votes or put rivals at a disadvantage, or to whether anybody is using government resources and machinery for partisan or individual ends. Due action against violators in such areas would go a long way towards guaranteeing a free and fair election much more than it would by making noises about graffiti. As for ‘proper coverage’ by the state media, the question is a tricky one. Equal quantitative coverage is neither practically possible nor professionally advisable, because news coverage is dictated by a number of factors. What is expected of the state, as well as the private, media, is coverage with due regard for all professional norms and practices of good journalism.