Playing Pranks with Polls
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, faced with success famine since he took office, pathetically described the third phase of the local elections as “a major achievement”. He had very little else to stake claim in his fourth prime ministerial innings. If conducting elections alone constituted a “major” success story, any sane person can draw a fair conclusion as to what state the country has been reduced to by political parties. But the topic this time focuses on the quality of the polls. Most news media agreed that there was rampant violation of election code of conduct while the Election Commission was reduced to a pathetic sight. Chairman of National Election Observation Committee Surya Prasad Shrestha (former Chief Election Commissioner] and Himalaya Shumsher Rana, also leading an election-related NGO, made sharp comments on EC's “total inability” to implement the code of conduct. Shrestha described the EC as a “helpless shadow of the government” and raised questions on the credibility of the EC itself. MOCKERY: The Deuba government's “complete disregard for the poll code of conduct” reflected the chaos. With barely a week remaining for the August polls, Deuba inducted four members into his cabinet taking the size of the cabinet to yet another record at 54. In response to the objections raised by the “seriously concerned” EC, Deuba was atrociously defiant: “I will expand the cabinet further, if need be.” In fact, he added two more ministers of state even as the last voters cast their votes on August 18, breaking his own record for the third time for the largest council of ministers. The EC protested the latest change, too, but Deuba government ignored it. News reports carried stories on “the most abused” code of conduct by government ministers and political parties. Children were used in campaign rallies and Deuba and his copartner Pushpa Kamal Dahal attended programmes that mobilised children too. Wall posters, bike rallies and loudspeakers featured in vulgar display of impunity. Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadhav said that action could not be taken against the prime minister, who is the executive. Massive millions of rupees are spent on “media monitoring” and various aspects of election “monitoring”. But the necessary follow-up action was missing every centimetre of the way. SOARING COSTS: Local elections also proved to be beyond the reach of people of modest economic means. It is extremely difficult for an honest candidate to throw his or her hat in the ring. Reports poured in with assessment that millions of rupees were spent by candidates in breach of the expense ceilings. Vulgar display of money, flouting of election code and overt intimidation of officials at various institutions if they did not expedite the files of individuals considered to be influential with pockets of vote base. All this was not an exception witnessed in the latest electoral exercise. In March, when the CPN (Maoist Centre) supremo headed the coalition cabinet with Nepali Congress as the main co-partner, The Republica daily editorialised: “The Election Commission has been guilty of many errors of omission and commission since the Pushpa Kamal Dahal government announced local elections on February 20. It mysteriously decided to delay imposition of election code of conduct till a week after the announcement of election, thereby allowing the political parties in government to transfer CDOs and top police officers, with a clear intent of influencing the election. Its commissioners have also been eerily quiet even as ministers have illegally allocated millions of rupees in development funds to their home districts, again in violation of the code of conduct.” As per prior agreement, Dahal quit office after the second phase elections and made a big show of “abiding” by his commitment to hand over the reins of power to Deuba who had begun to lose patience when the co-partner initially did not show enthusiasm to the accord on changing of baton. BIG WASTE: Despite the much ado by EC about voters' education, the overall percentage of invalid votes was staggeringly high. It was reported that as much as 20 per cent votes cast in Kathmandu Metropolitan City were found invalid in spring. The percentage of invalid votes for the entire Kathmandu district stood at 16.23 per cent, i.e., covering all ten municipalities. Now that local elections have been conducted for the first time in 20 years, the issue is how effectively well will the local bodies function. Their counterparts at the national parliament have been far from impressive, and hence they might make a case for their own defence by saying that they have not had experience for a whole generation. The local representatives can attribute their failures to “the transition” period imposed by 20 years without elected representatives, for which the major political parties were the cause. Local bodies that have already begun working since five months seem lost, with disheartening performance. Street politics is very different from the task of actually delivering services to people. We should know more of this in the ensuing months.