CEC seeks India’s technical help

The interim government of Nepal, formed in March under the sitting Chief Justice to hold elections by mid-June, has announced November 19 as the date for next Constituent Assembly. A Cabinet meeting on Thursday also forwarded an ordinance related to the election, which had divided Nepal’s four major parties for months, to the President for approval and formed a five- member commission to delineate the constituencies based on the latest census.

The election ordinance does not include a “threshold” level, which would have disqualified any party getting less than one per cent of the vote from being eligible to win a seat. It also bars those with criminal convictions from running for the election. Speaking to the media after the meeting, the government spokesperson Madhav Paudel, urged the parties opposed to the government for talks without any preconditions.

On a day’s visit to Delhi to discuss ‘technical co-operation’ with Election Commission, Nepal’s Chief Election Commissioner Neel Kantha Upreti, got news of the date as he was speaking exclusively to The Hindu at the Nepal embassy. Breaking into a smile, he said, “This will create the environment for elections. We are very happy.”

But the announcement is likely to further anger the alliance of smaller parties that have been pressuring the parties not to announce the date unilaterally. A radical Maoist splinter party, which has rejected elections under the current government, warned on Thursday that a unilateral announcement would “tantamount to a declaration of war”. Several parties, particularly excluded groups like Dalits, ethnic groups, Madhesis and women, have objected to reduction in the proportional representation quota of the election system.

Mr. Upreti said, “The level of acceptability among stakeholders will be tested after the announcement of the date and promulgation of election ordinance.” He hinted that an agitation – demanding a reversal to the 601-seat CA from the current plan of having 491 members, or increasing the PR share – may intensify. “It is a step-by-step process. The government and parties then will need to reconsider and exercise a degree of flexibility.” He also hoped that that the radical Maoists will come on board. ‘We must engage with them. I am confident as elections approach, even if they don’t come fully, they will come partly as there is no alternative to democratic process.”

EVMs from India

Nepal has decided to use Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in 119 out of 240 constituencies and will need 20,000 control units and 100,00 ballot units. Mr. Upreti said, “We are here to ascertain the availability of EVMs, whether we can get it in 10-12 weeks, and if India can train our technical staff, and provide back-up support.”

He said while a typical machine has space for 64 candidates, there are 139 parties in Nepal. In his talks with India’s EC and manufacturing company, slated for Friday, Mr. Upreti will enquire whether the additional candidates can be accommodated on the machine and the degree of confidence in its use. Nepal’s EC has also asked India for 48 vehicles, and recommendations to expedite the export of inedible ink.