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Report of National Seminar on Issues and Challenges of Electoral Reforms in Nepal

Papers Presented in the Seminar

Organized by Centre for Economic and Technical Studies (CETS)

7 & 8 July 2007, Nepal Administrative Staff College, Jawalakhel, Lalitpur


Background

Since the introduction of multi-party democracy in the country in 1990, the electorates were able to exercise their political choice in national elections in 1991, 1994 and in 1999,apart from the two local elections. However, the elections at the national or local level were thwarted on one or the other excuse with the growing clout of the King on the executive body. On 1 February 2005, the King dismissed the duly elected Sher Bahadur Deuba government, imposed a state of emergency and seized absolute power through a royal decree. People's uprising against the authoritarian system culminated in April 2006. Following this event, people were able to restore the power that they had ceased to the King.

After the historic April Jana Andolan 2006, the government and the CPN (Maoist) agreed to hold elections to the constituent assembly (CA) in June 2007. This election has been due in the country for last 55 years. Election, though important, is not all. Election has no meaning if it is not conducted in a free, fair and fearless manner with larger turn out of voters. This, however, is not possible until there are electoral reforms.

More critical observation and debates are needed on the merits and demerits of mixed electoral system comprising both the elements of first-past-the-post system and proportional representation system at the same time.

Increasing voters' turn out in the elections is a major challenge. Lower turnout of the voters during the elections denotes their lack of commitment and trust in the electoral system and democratic values. It is, therefore, important for the Election Commission (EC) to act in way that the voters are duly educated about their rights to franchise and their participation in the governance of the country. Only due electoral reforms could ensure election of right candidates, give legitimacy to the governance and make the government accountable to the electorates. In order to support the EC and raise awareness among the people about the need of electoral reforms in Nepal, the Centre for Economic and Technical Studies (CETS) in cooperation with Friedrich-Eber-Stiftung (FES) conducted a two-day seminar on 7 & 8 July at Nepal Administrative Staff College, Jawalakhel, Lalitpur on the issue of "Issues and Challenges of Electoral Reforms in Nepal."

Seminar Objectives

The objective of the seminar was to extend support to EC in identifying some of the core issues in electoral reforms and educate the common mass of the Nepalese population about the need of their participation in the Constituent Assembly (CA) and other national and local elections to come. The specific objectives of the seminar were to:

1. Promote election system and democracy in Nepal;
2. Share the experience of countries successfully conducting CA Election ;
3. Strengthen election administration and autonomy of EC;
4. Create conducive environment for the control of election expenditure;
5. Judge the contribution of political parties in improving the electoral process in Nepal; and
6. Present the importance of political institutionalization.


The Seminar

The two-day seminar was organized at the prestigious institution, Nepal Administrative Staff College, Jawalakhel, Lalitpur. Major participants of the seminar were academicians, political activists, journalists, Dalits and women from Madhesh and different other parts of Nepal (The programme of the seminar, list of the Seminar participants and the papers presented are attached).

Inaugural Session

Mr. Dev Raj Dahal: Head FES: Delivering his welcome address on behalf of the FES and the CETS, Mr. Dahal hoped that the seminar could prove to be a platform wherein new ideas could emerge. He held that, Democracy and Elections are the only available non-violent approaches for societal transformation. He further said that "Election is a renewable process (5 years period), however, the CA elections is not a continuous process for it comes only after an era thus understanding the CA process is most important".

Mr. Nilambar Acharya: Ex-Ambassador: Criticizing the YCL - the Maoist party affiliate, Mr. Acharya held that politics of violence continues in the name of YCL and the traces of peoples' revolt still remain in the Maoist camp. "Democracy plus Monarchy and Violence plus monarchy should remain out of the democratic process", he added. The country should be free of Monarchy and Violence", he said.

Prof. Birendra Mishra: Prof. Mishra held that the elections have become the most talked, written and spoken topic over the last 60 years. It is by all means a way to transform violent conflicts and to make certain Social and Economic Transformation, he added. "The most difficult part of any elections is to ensure inclusiveness", he continued.

Mr. Surya Prasad Shrestha (Chairperson), Ex-Chief Election Commissioner: Speaking as the Chief Guest of the Inaugural Function, Mr. Shrestha said that elections are the peaceful means of state transformation and the CA election is a means to draft laws governing the state. "The Constitution of the 1991 was called as the most democratic/ comprehensive/ advanced constitution in the South Asia. The problem with that constitution was that it had no provision to tackle the Maoist led insurgency" he said.
"To provide legitimacy to the Maoists revolt, the 1991 constitution was scrapped" he continued.

"Important task ahead is to hold CA polls in a peaceful, free and fair manner but the recent disturbances and discontent among the Terai people and the Janajatis in the hills have given bad signals against the peaceful conduct of the upcoming election", he added.

He concluded that, "CA polls will have no legitimacy if it were held in a chaotic manner without addressing the pressing demands of the currently agitating groups. Present chaos in the country demands unity, solidarity and democracy by fighting against the communal forces and the reactionary elements."

Dr. Hari Bansh Jha: Dr. Jha thanked the FES and Mr. Dev Raj Dahal for their continued support to the CETS. The CETS and FES partnership dates back to 1993, he said. The FES support to initiate activities targeting poor, under privileged, women and other excluded groups of the society is highly commendable, he said.

The Sessions

After the Inaugural Function, the first session started under the chairmanship of Mr. Daman Nath Dhungana, former Speaker of House of Representatives. In this session, Mr. Bharat Pokhrel, Department of Economics, Tribhuvan University presented his paper on "Election System and Democracy Building in Nepal." In his paper, Mr. Pokhrel discussed the electoral systems in various countries of the world. He also discussed Nepal's electoral system and shed light on the performance of political parties in various elections held in the country in the past. Need of electoral reforms was experienced as the old system did not deliver the result. Therefore, apart from the FPtP system, the proportional system of elections is adopted in the country. At the present time, the main issue in Nepal is to hold CA elections as it is going to institutionalize the gains achieved through the people's war, he said.

From the floor, Mr. Parashuram Jha, former justice, .Mr. K.D. Mishra, Mr. Shyamanand Suman, former Ambassador, Dr. Surendra KC, Mr. Narayan Mishra, Mr. Lal Babu Yadav, Mr. Ganga Thapa, Dr. Rabindra Khanal, Prof. Dambar Narayan Yadav, Ms. Rama Singh, Ms. Pushpa Thakur, Mr. Md. Parwez, Mr. Nimesh Jha, Mr. Rajesh Ahiraj, Mr. Basant Vishwokarma, Ms. Shanti Mishra, and Ms. Vinita Yadav raised several pertinent questions and made comments on the paper.

The author responded all the questions raised from the floor. In his chairperson's remarks, Mr. Daman Nath Dhungana opined that the way the seminar was selective about the participants showed that Madhesh came to Kathmandu. He took it as a positive trend. He added that there is no place of democratic pluralism in Leninism and Stalinism, but it is ridiculous that the communists are not in a position to give it up. Election is not an isolated issue. Code of conduct for the CA should be different from the routine lections. There is also a lack of commitment among the politicians and political parties that the CA election is getting delayed. It is now in people's court to hold elections. The country cannot come out of the tunnel until the CA elections are held, he added.

The second session of the seminar opened up with the paper presented by Prof. Birendra Mishra. Supreme Court judge Mr. Parmanand Jha chaired the session. One of the important aspects of the paper was the discussion on electoral experience in Nepal. The paper examined the FPtP system and PR system in greater details in context to CA elections.

Speaking from the floor, Mr. Md. Habibullah, Mr. Ganga Thapa, Mr. K.D. Mishra, Mr. Shyamanand Suman, Prof. Dambar Narayan Yadav, Mr. Keshab Tripathi, Mr. Basant Vishwokarma, Mr. Rabindra Khanal, Mr. Shyam Shekhar Jha, Mr. Keshab Chaulagain, Mr. Ashok Upreti, Ms. Draupadi Subedi, Mr. Baidyanath Mishra, and Ms. Pushpa Thakur made many useful comments and observations on the paper, which Prof. Birendra Mishra tried to address satisfactorily. He said that PR system removed some of the inherent weaknesses of the FPtP system. He also added that independent candidates might not win the CA elections in PR system.

In his remarks as chairperson of the session, Mr. Parmanand Jha said that there was detailed discussion in the session on mixed election. However, he noted that the interests of the political parties were not clear. He said that Kathmandu would be Madheshmaya if at least 4 out of 11 seats in CA elections in Kathamndu go to the Madheshis.

The third session of the Seminar was chaired by Mr. Ayodhi Prasad Yadav, Election Commissioner. In this session, Mr. Lalit Bahadur Basnet, Advocate presented his paper on "Electoral Process and Political Institutionalization in Nepal."

Mr. Basnet said that undemocratic elections will be suicidal for the country. He was concerned about the way politics is getting criminalized, the institutional culture is eroded, election is getting expensive, and there is lack of internal democracy and rampant poverty and illiteracy in the country.

Mr. Shyamanand Suman, Mr. K.D. Mishra, Mr. Baidyanath Mishra, Mr. Parasuram Jha, Mr. Pashupati Mishra, Mr. Basant Vishwokarma, and Mr. Ashok Upreti raised several questions from the floor, which the author replied satisfactorily. Chairman of the session, Mr. Ayodhi Prasad Yadav said that the EC is not an independent institution. Besides, he also discussed some of the challenges that the EC had been facing in conducting the elections.

The fourth session of seminar began in the next morning on 8 July 2007 with the paper "Financing Elections and Electoral Reforms in Nepal" by Dr. Hari Bansh Jha. Eminent economist and leader of Nepali Congress (Democratic) Dr. Narayan Khadka chaired the session. In his paper, Dr. Jha gave details of cost per vote in various elections held in the country after the political change of 1990. He also gave estimate of cost per vote of the CA election and found that the cost of elections was increasing significantly in the country.

Prof. Mohan Lohani, Mr. Shyamanada Suman, Mr. Pashupati Mishra, Mr. Parmananda Jha, Prof. Surya Lal Amatya, Mr. Baidyanath Mishra, Ms. Shanti Mishra, Ms. Vinita Yadav, Ms. Shanti Mahato, and Mr. Man Bahadur Sipali raised several pertinent questions from the floor. The author addressed all the questions raised from the floor.

Dr. Narayn Khadka, chairperson finally said that in our region election brings development at the local level and is a means for economic boom. Money trickles downs from cities to the local levels during the elections. There is not only corruption in Election process but the process itself is too costly, he added.

The fifth session of the seminar began with the paper presented by Mr. Jan Sharma, senior journalist. Mr. Neel Kantha Uprety, Election Commissioner chaired the session. While presenting his paper, Mr. Jan Sharma said that the practice of introducing 10,000 signatures as pre-requisite for registering a political party in the EC was discriminatory in itself. He said that Nepal's largest political party, Nepali Congress, was not clear about its policy on monarchy and other issues and its leaders have also not been able to go to the rural areas. He also observed that the media like Gorkhapatra and Rising Nepal should be privatized. But the electronic media like NTV and Radio Nepal should be put in public sector in a way that the government cannot use them as propaganda tool. There is sufficient room for legislative reforms, he added.

From the floor, several useful questions were raised by scholars like Mr. Parashuram Jha, Prof. Md. Md. Habibullah, Mr. Pashupati Mishra, Dr. Surendra K.C., Mr. Parmanand Jha, Ms. Rama Singh, Mr. Keshab Tripathi, Mr. K.D. Mishra, Mr. Lakshman Karki, Mr. Narayan Mishra, Ms. Pushpa Thakur, Mr. Rajesh Ahiraj, Mr. Man Bahadur Sirpali, Ms. Vinita Yadav, Dr. Mangla Shrestha, Dr. Basant Vishwokarma, Ms. Shanti Mishra, Ms. Baidyanath Mishra, Prof. Suryalal Amatya, and Mr. Manoj Yadav on the paper, which the author responded satisfactorily.

In his remarks as chairperson of the session, Mr. Neel Kantha Uprety observed that the EC was planning to make door-to-door visit to make the people aware about CA elections. He also noted that the EC also envisaged to extend technical support to the people as to how to vote. He also said that EC was determined to hold elections.

The sixth session of the seminar started under the chairmanship of former Minister and Secretary General of Nepali Congress (Democratic), Mr. Bimlendra Nidhi. In this session, Dr. Ram Dayal Rakesh presented his paper on "Election Administration and Autonomy of Election Commission." In his paper, Dr Rakesh held that 3G, e.g. "Gun, Goonda and Gold" still prevails in politics. The Election Constituency Delineation still poses to be a stumbling block before the CA polls. The formation of ECDA is faulty as there are no experts in the panel, he said. Challenging the EC, he said that that there is clearly a lack of transparency within this body itself.

Several scholars including Dr. Surendra K.C., Mr. Pashupati Mishra, Mr. K.D. Mishra, Mr. Kali Kant Jha, Mr. Narayan Mishra, Mr. Md. Habibullah, Ms. Pushpa Thakur, Mr. Baidyanath Mishra, Mr. Narayan Mishra, and Mr. Gambhir Bahadur Hada made useful comments on the paper, which the author responded satisfactorily. In his remarks as chairperson, Mr. Bimlendra Nidhi said that the EC should be autonomous and it must be free from favouritism.

 
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