Kathmandu : The nation is all prepared for the November 20 election to the Member of House of Representatives and Province Assembly Member. This general election is a part of a series of an important and mandatory dimension that render the democratic system vibrant.
The Election Commission, the Government of Nepal, employees, security personnel, observers, stakeholder sides and all the voters are joining hands to conducting the election in a free, fair, impartial, transparent and fear-free environment.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya is convinced that the political parties and candidates should get victory in the election on the basis of ideology, thought and policies and programmes rather than position, money and enticement for upholding the integrity of the elections. CEC Thapaliya, who also has the experience of serving as the Secretary of the Government of Nepal, is confident that the election would be held successfully with the mutual partnership, coordination and interrelation.
RSS’ Deputy Chief Reporter Narayan Prasad Neupane and Senior Reporter Prakash Silwal spoke with CEC Thapaliya regarding the overall preparations and management of the election. The excerpts of the interview:
Q. What is your call to the political parties, candidates and the general voters when the nation is on the verge of election?
A. The Election Commission has fulfilled all the preparations for the election and the election publicity restriction period has already begun since midnight of November 17. In this context, all the political parties, candidates, voters and all the stakeholders are eagerly waiting for voting on November 20.
I urge all the electorates to take part in the voting and the political parties and candidates to maintain the patience they have been adopting so far, so as to present to the world community that the election is possible in a peaceful manner through the mutual cooperation, coordination and goodwill of all and that it can truly be conducted in a free, fair, impartial credible and peaceful manner with this.
Q. What are the unprecedented and exemplary works that have been carried out this time in terms of election preparation as compared to the past elections?
A. Our attention is focussed on not repeating this time the kind of shortcomings or problems that we experienced in the local level elections that we conducted six months back. Efforts have been made to carry out works to make a qualitative forward jump and some novelty from the flawlessness of the voter list to giving the vote counting results promptly, compared to the past election. For example, the name of deceased or repeated voters has been removed from the voter roll to the extent the information of which has come to the Commission as per the due process.
There was this complaint concerning the local level elections that several polling stations and voting centres were not accessible. Efforts have been made now to keep all the voting centres close to the residence of the voters as far as possible. They have been made accessible.
Q. How have the past complaints that the voting centres were not disabled-friendly been addressed?
A. We are aware and serious in this regard. The Commission has issued directives to design and construct the polling centres in such a way that they are gender-inclusive and are easier for the new mothers, pregnant women, senior citizens, sick and the incapacitated voters and voters with visual impairments. Similarly, around 300 polling centres have been constructed in such a way as to demonstrate the model of an entirely disabled-friendly polling centre.
Q. It is seen that the Commission has initiated some novel works related to regulating the social sites. What are the challenges in its implementation?
A. We have started regulation of the social sites for the first time in connection to the election. This has established a new standard that any activities as misinformation, disinformation and hate speech spoiling the election is not acceptable.
This has also been established in the Election Code of Conduct itself. This election has become successful is establishing the value and principle that the election campaign can be conducted even by writing on Facebook and other social sites’ wall and not only through graffiti. A situation has been established in which we can say that the election campaign is truly environmentally-friendly this time.
Q: Does the EC intend to make the transport service operation system some flexible on the day of voting?
A: The EC wants to see the mobility of media persons and people involved in other essential services sectors systematized within from the district and make the movement convenient and accessible to destinations. We believe that the people’s mobility during the elections will not have its impact on the election impartiality. It has been asked to facilitate the transport of incapacitated and senior citizens to and from the polling stations for the voting.
Q: The number of invalid ballot papers was noticeable in the latest local level election. Could we hope improvement in regard with it this time?
A: The issue raised in design with the style of ballot papers has been addressed this time. This time is the ballot paper is voter-friendly and we expect to a reduction in the size of invalid papers.
Q: Could your share with us about the modality of monitoring implemented for the monitoring of election expenses by election candidates and political parties?
A: We had sit for dialogues and discussions with political parties and stakeholders concerned in our bid to make the provisions regarding the Election Code of Conduct and the expenditure ceiling more and more applicable.
We believe the principle that the election is a means of making people aware of parties’ policies, ideologies and principles and convincing them to vote for the support by discouraging the culture of election extravagance and glitz has been established. Political parties and candidates have been informed about the ceiling of election expenditures and security bodies have been requested to monitor its implementation. We are free to go for an audit (on need basis) of the details of election details to be submitted by the parties after the election.
Q: Are political parties and candidate more positive this time in terms of the implementation of the Election Code of Conduct and expenditures ceiling?
A: This election has been a success to send a message that we instead of second or third parties are more responsible for abiding by the Election Code of Conduct and related norms and vales.
The election and its results will in a relative term be largely based on the delivery, performance, ideologies, dedication, principles, thoughts, election manifest, integrity and election publicity campaign not by the positions, powers, social prestige, or money. We assume election ahead will be greatly guided by the above based factors.
It has established the belief that the election is also a means of changing the system not just its characters. More, it has been established that the periodic elections should be conducted within the announced date. “The price of any delay in ensuring the timely elections is unbearable for the nation and the public.”
Q: What types of support and cooperation the Commission is getting from the political parties, the government and the international community to systematize the election procedures?
A.First of all, the government is extending all sorts of support: including finance, human resources and security demanded by the EC since the beginning.
This time, the coordination from the Province and local governments is significant and unforgettable. Onwards, the Commission should decentralize the election affairs and cooperation and partnership with the Province and local levels should be further consolidated.
We have cordial relations with the international community and it is closely watching the election atmosphere.
Two international oranisations, 18 diplomatic missions based in Kathmandu, chief elections commissioners from four countries and some election commissioners are taking up roles of election observers this time. The EC has continuous cooperation from the USAID and UNDP ESP, and IFES has been ensured for the voter education campaign. The Government of India provided 80 motor vehicles for election purposes this time. We have got words from others to ask for help required for promoting election impartiality and credibility. We have abundant support from media and civil society for making the elections successful.
Q. What were reactions from political parties and candidates during election campaigns?
A. I have got two types of tendencies and feedbacks. One section complained about a lack of time for political parties to carry out their election publicity under the proportional representation across the country arguing that the set 15 days’ time before the voting day for election publicity was not enough. They suggested making it a bit practical. This would be addressed in next elections. The issues of managing rostrums and party flags, and election symbol and number of people assigned for election publicity were also raised.
However, aside from publicity, party’s ideology and principles have played a major role.
Q. Have questions about voters’ education and election atmosphere been raised?
A. In the past, election atmosphere would be measured basing sizes of rallies, number of people gathered, types of party’s flags the participants carried and types of posters pasted. Now, time has changed with the implementation of the election code of conduct.
We are effortful to save integrity of elections. One should not argue that voters’ education and election atmosphere were not enough just because these things did not happen this time. The process has switched through the digital medium. We made the digital platform a medium of election publicity.
The form of election publicity has changed. It is not that there is not an election atmosphere, the EC views.
All candidates and political parties are reaching out to voters. Election atmosphere is taking place internally. Voters will show how election atmosphere is being created by participating in voting.
Q. Did sporadic incidents having taken place lately increase the sensitivity of election security? What steps the EC has taken?
A. In the beginning, there were questions raised that difficulties including from threats of a boycott by some groups of people would take place by organizing the previous local elections in a single phase.
It is the responsibility of the government to create political climate conducive, and the polls took place in a single phase, and got a success. No group created difficulties during the elections. For that, I would like to thank all political parties.
This time, we are assured that any individuals including employees, security personnel, voters, civil society and media-persons assigned for the polls would not face difficulties and discomforts from any political parties and groups of people.
An environment conducive would be created wherein voters can fearlessly cast their vote as foolproof security arrangements have been made. The EC is mindful of the possibility of affecting the election management and operation through fake and misleading information and defamatory statements on social media at home and abroad being influenced by political interests.
I urge all voters to exercise their franchise by voting for their favourite political parties and candidates without being influenced, fear and threats as the EC has made necessary security arrangements and completed all managerial work related to the operation and management of the polls.
I would also like to inform that the Commission has issued special instructions to election staffs, security persons, observers and monitoring team members or any individual to inform the concerned authorities about any activity imperiling the election process that come to their knowledge.
The Commission has also asked the concerned authority to take action against the wrongdoers.
Also, if any one was found influencing others or threatening or intimidating, the Election has asked the election staffers to inform about it to the concerned authorities.
Security personnel have been mobilized to prevent the untoward activities that could imperil electoral process and affect the fairness of the election such as boycotting the election and impeding election, booth-capturing, depriving voters from voting rights, threatening, intimidating the voters among others.
Three-tier security arrangement is put in place in every polling centres for election security. A ‘reserve force’ is in place which could reach the site within 30 minutes to deal with untoward activities.
Security patrols are arranged based on the election security risk. High-powered mobile team of security personnel have been deployed to ensure the election is held in a peaceful environment.
Local administrations and District Election Code of Conduct Monitoring Committee have been activated for effective implementation of prohibition of sales, distribution as well as consumption of alcohol since Thursday midnight to the day vote counting is completed.
Q. Would the Commission be able to do away with the complaints of delay in vote counting this time?
A. We are ever ready to address the issues relating to vote counting round. We have instructed all election officers to conduct vote counting with a new strategy.
Vote counting is to begin immediately after all ballot boxes are received after voting process is over. Any minor disputes or issues arising while vote counting be resolved promptly rather than elongating it.
If any issue emanates, the Commission will take judicious decisions for its resolution. There is no point in elongating the dispute when we are pledging to provide with all resources and human resources.
This time, financial incentive for the human resources to be deployed for the election is good. We are confident that we could publish all election results within seven days from the first day of the vote counting.
We can do all the works and present the report to the President within two days after the political parties give the detail of the election held under Proportional Representation. It should not take longer than December 8.
We are committed to conduct the election in a efficiently and effectively so that there is no criticism.
Q. Is there any structure/mechanism to receive information on vote counting promptly?
A. We have been timely and conveniently providing every decisions of the Commission and statements to the mass media through the social networking sites and the Press Office set up in the Commission’s Office.
Likewise, we are preparing to devise a system through which the mass media get the information or result of vote counting as it comes to our information system.
We are encouraging the election staffs to set up an information unit in each polling centre and give hourly update about the activities relating to vote counting.
By doing so, accusation for delaying dissemination of vote counting results will be quelled and there will be ease in accessing and disseminating information.
Q. Earlier, there remained a question that there was abnormal voting in some centres with more or cent per cent voter turnout. This time, what strategy has been adopted towards making casting of vote clean?
A. The election officers can conduct re-election in the polling centre time if election is held unfairly and question about the accuracy is raised in any polling centre.
In such context, the Commission verifies the incident before taking any decision about re-election.
Cent per cent voter turnout sounds appeasing to ears but the statistical analysis of the election show that it is difficult to embrace such turnouts.