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Nepal elections “free and fair to a large degree”

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The FORUM-ASIA international election observation team monitored the election process in Nepal from 5-10 April. The team analysed election laws and procedures, implementation measures, and the roles played by major actors including political parties and government bodies.

The FORUM-ASIA international election observation team monitored the election process in Nepal from 5-10 April. The team analysed election laws and procedures, implementation measures, and the roles played by major actors including political parties and government bodies.

The election observation team visited different regions of the country and interacted with voters, candidates, party leaders and various other stakeholders to appraise whether or not an atmosphere conducive to free and fair elections exists in Nepal. The opinion of the international election observation team is that the necessary prerequisites for free and fair elections are present. There were no complaints from political parties and candidates when asked about restrictions on political activities, including the recruitment of new members and the freedom to assemble and conduct public meetings and processions. Citizens stated that they had sufficient knowledge of the electoral process so as to fully participate in the election.

Preliminary assessment of the FORUM-ASIA international election observation team on various aspects of the electoral process is given below:
1. Election Commission:

Necessary efforts have been taken by the Election Commission of Nepal to ensure elections are free and fair.  Both the political parties and the electors have voiced confidence and appreciation regarding the impartiality of the Election Commission. The Commission has taken extensive measures to ensure voters will be able to cast their votes without fear for their personal security, and has secured the assistance of civil society organisations in this regard. Polling officers and polling agents received pre-election training, and an Election Day Manual for polling and counting agents has been published.
2. Preparation of electoral roll:

The first step required in conducting elections is the preparation of the electoral rolls. There are often complaints of a massive exclusion of names of citizens from the electoral roll. However, in this election we have not come across any such complaints regarding the preparation of the electoral roll.
3. Voter Awareness:
In order to make an informed choice, electors should be aware of the significance of the elections in which they are voting. As this election is for the Constituent Assembly, voters must understand the role and significance of the Constituent Assembly in introducing a democratic form of governance. In the present election, both First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) and the Proportional Representation (PR) systems are operating simultaneously. As such, it is also vital to ensure that voters are aware of and understand the mode of voting. Therefore, a massive voters' awareness programme is critical for the success of the election. In this regard, the Election Commission, political parties, civil society organisations, media and professional groups have done a commendable job in educating the voters about the significance of this election and the mode of voting. There seems to be extensive public awareness on both accounts.
4. Arrangements in Polling stations:
Necessary arrangements were made in polling stations, and polling officers and polling agents have performed their duties effectively. The necessary materials for polling stations reached their destinations in time. The performance of polling officers and other staff members in the polling stations revealed that they had received proper training.
5. Transparency:

Transparency in the management of polling stations and the confidentiality of voting was ensured in the locations observed. Most of the polling stations were arranged in open places, rather than closed rooms, and ballot boxes were placed in clear view of electors, polling agents and election observers. Officials in charge of electoral administration, from Election Commissioners to Polling Officers, interacted with the observation teams.
6. Disturbing factors:

a. Pre-poll violence:

The most disturbing factor connected with the election was reports of pre-poll violence. During the period between March 23 and April 8, five murders, 33 abductions, 3 disappearances, 12 cases of torture, 153 attacks/misbehavior/manhandling, etc, 23 threats, and 78 other violations of code of conduct were reported.However, CDOs and other officials of the state have taken necessary steps to prevent these sorts of undesirable practices. They engaged extensively with political parties to curb violence, and in some cases used force. However, as the focus of the administration was to maintain law and order with the support of the political parties, in many cases the perpetrators of violent acts were not charged.

b. Allegations of bribery and treating:

Another disturbing factor is allegations that some candidates and political party workers had distributed money, liquor, meat, etc, in order to influence electors. It is pertinent to note that when the monitoring team interviewed some candidates/leaders, they stated that their opponents were resorting to these types of corrupt practices for capturing votes. However, everybody agreed that there would not be any large scale practice of this sort. It is the duty of all stakeholders to see that that these types of undesirable practices are eradicated from the election arena. We hope the authorities will look into this matter further and take appropriate action.

c. Violence on the Polling day:

Though there were apprehensions about large-scale violence on the polling day, the reported incidents of violence were much fewer than anticipated. However, the killing of at least three persons and the need for a re-poll in 33 constituencies is a matter of serious concern.  The fact that the instances of violence were far fewer than in previous elections is a positive note.

d. Threats to Human Rights Defenders:

There were reports of attacks against Human Rights Defenders in several places, including Sunsari, Gorkha, Ramechhap, and Rukkum. These types of attacks are serious threats to the entire democratic process. We urge the authorities to take this matter seriously.

e. Impartiality of the temporary security forces:

There were apprehensions on the part of some electors that some political party workers may have infiltrated the temporary security force for the elections. Considering the fact that no effective screening had been done at the time of the recruitment of these forces, this apprehension may not be unfounded.
7. Conclusion

Barring a few exceptions, the election to the Constituent Assembly of Nepal has been conducted in a peaceful manner. The election was free and fair to a large degree. Though reported instances of violence have reduced the splendor of this election, this momentous occasion has marked the dawn of a constitutional democracy for the people of Nepal. The role played by the UN and the international community in this regard is commendable, and the role of national and international election observers was significant. The people of Nepal should be commended for their zeal and zest, which is a true reflection of the desire for constitutional democracy in the country.
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a Bangkok-based regional human rights organisation. INSEC in Nepal is presently the chair of FORUM-ASIA. FORUM-ASIA and its member organisations are at the forefront of the campaign for the protection of human rights in Nepal and are committed to achieving sustainable peace and multi-party democracy in Nepal through the credible election of the Constituent Assembly.
The members of the election observation team were:
Abul Haseeb Khan (Bangladesh), Dr. K. C. Sunny (India), Kang Dong Hun (Republic of Korea), Stijn Denayer (Belgium), David von Kalckreuth (Germany), Riegg Jochen (Germany), Saji Thomas (FORUM-ASIA, Bangkok). The team was assisted by Bijay Raj Gautam (Director) and Bidhya Chapagain (Officer) of INSEC.