Nepal Today

Monday, June 10, 2013

HLPM MEET INCONCLUSIVE Kathmandu, 9 June: A meeting Monday of the HLPM of the Big Three and Madesh Morcha to resolve differences on election laws to conduct constituent assembly polls waas inconclusive, UML leader Raghiji Pant said. The body that has no constitutional status decided to handover responsibility to government to frame such laws. NC Vice-chairman Ram Chandra Paudel had in the morning assured Chairman Khil Raj Regmi Sunday meeting of the Big Three and Madesh Morcha would settle their differences of election laws recommended by the election commission. Regmi told Paudel said differences parties placed government in a difficult position. Nnnn SIT-IN AT NEA AGAINST YPGRADING TRISHULI A Kathmandu, 10 June: Nepal Students’ Union (NSU) also staged a sit-in in front of the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) Monday protesting a NEC decision to upgrade the capacity of Trishuli from 60 to 90MW. NSU continued protests for the second day. find hasUML BANDH CLOSES DOWN KAVRE Kathmandu, 9 June:: Normal life in Kavre district has been affected due to the bandh enforced by Nepal Independent Transport Workers' Union under the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Union, a sister wing of the CPN-UML, RSS reports from Banepa. . The vehicles have been totally halted in the district. The main effect of the bandh has been seen at Dhulikhel, Panauti, Banepa and Panchkhal areas. The union called for the bandh in protest against the decision taken by the government to issue the driving license only to those who have passed the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examinations. Nnnn INTERVIEW POLLS WILL BE HELD SAYS ELECTION CHIEF chief Election Commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety is a pioneer of digital voter registration in Nepal and is known for his in-depth knowledge of electoral systems and procedures. With an extensive background in post-conflict elections, Uprety served as Electoral Coordinator for the UN Mission in Afghanistan during 2004-2005 and Election Commissioner during the 2008 Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. Now that the Election Commission (EC) has recommended November 14 as the potential date for second CA elections, the Post’s Bhadra Sharma and Pranaya SJB Rana spoke to Uprety about the possibility of polls, the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and security challenges. Now that you have recommended the government declare November 14 (Kartik 28) as the election date, how certain are you that elections will happen? Even if the elections don’t take place by Kartik, we believe that they will happen by Mangsir 7 (November 22) or at least the first week of Mangsir so we have planned our activities accordingly. But some people have a habit of being suspicious. After all, elections have already been postponed twice and it has been a year since the political parties decided to go for fresh elections. We weren’t able to hold elections the first time around because there were legal barriers and a lack of political consensus. There was the issue of legitimacy and credibility, which depends on the participation of all parties and their agreement on elections. Constitutional amendments had also yet to be made. Now, we have made amendments and the country has reached a point where it can even draft an ordinance to amend electoral laws. But this ordinance has been stuck for two months now. So there is definitely grounds for suspicion. The parties want to go to elections, the voters want to go to elections and the EC has the capability to hold elections. So if there is coordination between everyone, elections can definitely be held. Our voter registration drive has crossed 1,16,00,000. No one will come to register if they don’t want to participate in elections. So it is the parties that need to get ready. Still, I feel the people should not be too sceptical. The parties have been holding talks among themselves and the government and I believe the door to elections will open and we will have elections. But the primary players in elections—the political parties—are themselves divided. How can elections be ensured in such a situation? Many of the parties—139—have registered with the EC. Once we have the electoral laws, the process will move forward. But you are indicating some parties who have not registered. Even in the previous CA elections, we had to open party registration and nominations up until the last moment. This was during a time of conflict. But the conflict never ended, it only changed its form. The 10-year conflict might have ended but conflict as such still exists. We need to take this into account while going to elections. What difficulties still remain for November elections? The first thing is that there need to be proper amendments to electoral laws, not just the constitution. We have prepared a draft of the laws and forwarded it for promulgation. The second thing is voter registration and voter turnout, which has been an issue of concern for Nepal in the past. But we have continued registration and we will open registration till mid-July. The third thing is the participation of political parties, as this is a multi-party democracy. Party registration too, will finish by mid-July. So we have voters, we have parties and we have candidates. But a crucial outstanding issue is that of constituency delineation. The government will soon create a commission that will complete delineating voting constituencies within a month and a half or two months at the most. So what else remains? Ballot papers, human resources and voter education. We have human resources—around 300,000 out of which 100,000 or 150,000 will be security personnel. Coming back to the constituency delineation issue, there are differences over whether only a few constituencies or all of them need to be redelineated. What should be done? In my opinion, there are no differences. According to constitutional provisions, 205 constituencies cannot be changed. Only the 35 areas that were delineated for the 2008 CA elections can be redelineated. Now, it remains to be seen whether any areas will be added and even if they are, the question arises as to where they will come from. A constituency delineation commission needs to be created as soon as possible as that is a constitutional provision. But some Madhes-based parties are of the opinion that all constituencies, not just the 35, need to redelineated. That is their right. They can have opinions and make demands. There were some demanding that elections to local bodies be held before CA elections. That would be a good thing, if only we could do it. Previously, everyone had agreed to elections in June and if that had happened, there would have been no delineation of constituencies but everyone agreed to that. Things move forward on the basis of consensus and if there is no consensus then we need to abide by the constitution which is our primary law. Moving on, there was talk that EVMs would be used in this election but now there is uncertainty over it. We had made a soft decision to use EVMs across the nation this time around. Then we realised that were difficulties so we only planned to use EVMs in 119 suitable constituencies. But limitations began to come up. The machines we planned to use cannot support more than 64 parties. The EC has already registered 139 parties and there is a possibility that this number will increase. We have already announced that we will be using EVMs and it would be nice if we could. But it remains to be seen what alternatives there are. We have heard that Indian companies have developed EVMs that can handle more than 300 parties but we don’t know if they’ve been used practically and if they are recommended. Furthermore, we are not certain about how many parties will eventually contest elections. Although 139 have registered, some might not pass requirements. We will study the possibility and will try our best to use EVMs by accommodating all the parties. Have you analysed the security situation for elections? How favourable are they? In the coming days, it is uncertain if the security situation will get better or worse. We have spoken to the Home Ministry and various security organs. They will arrange security according to the changing scenario. The country will be divided into security classes, say, ‘normal, semi-normal or abnormal’. In order to coordinate all these issues and arrange for the necessary equipment, we have already started a Joint Election Operation Centre with the participation of the Home Ministry, the security organs and even the Army for communication and information. The EC will need to transport sensitive material, like ballot papers, and some places might need helicopter transport so we will need the Army for that. A joint team from the Home Ministry, the EC and the National Investigation Department (NID) will be conducting hourly monitoring. We will need to think on how to mitigate and prevent electoral violence. Obviously, preventing violence comes first. How to classify and understand psychological and physical violence is also an issue that the EC is working on diligently. There are accusations that the EC is disrupting electoral atmosphere by insisting on provisions for a threshold and not allowing criminal convicts to contest elections. Why are you enforcing this? Limiting the number of parties does not mean that the CA will not be inclusive. The parties themselves need to be strong and to become strong, they need to be inclusive. Furthermore, the right to draft electoral laws was given to the EC and we did it according to our professional capacity, by analysing our past weaknesses and incorporating international practice. Internationally, we have the lowest threshold provision. More than an ethical or moral issue, this is simply the minimum. As professionals, we have a moral responsibility to tell people about good practices. If we know there is a disease and we have the medicine, why not give the prescription? The EC does not make and pass laws, it is the government that does it. Once the law is passed, everyone will have to abide by it. We simply proposed a draft. Now it is up to the parties and the government. If they want to go to elections, they will have to reach consensus and move forward. How they do this is up to them. They are independent. We did not make the draft without properly understanding it or to unnecessarily create difficulties, we only did it to take a small step towards improvement. It is up to them whether to accept it or not. To end, how is this round of elections going to be different from previous elections? If we are able to use EVMs then this will be a new voting experience for the public. We are electing a new CA but because the old CA was unable to draft a constitution. But those contentious issues that led to the dissolution of the CA, its killing agent, have not been resolved. Because of this, divisions are being reflected along party, provincial and ethnic lines. Ethnic divisions can be dangerous and these divisions could tarnish the sanctity of elections. nnnn


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