For elections to reflect the national mood, they need to be free and fair. Candidates should not win based on caste, ethnic or religious vote banks. Money and lavish feasts should not determine the outcome.
Last week’s elections for members of the federal and provincial assemblies could have been freer and fairer, but by Nepali standards they were clean with only sporadic incidents of violence. Most candidates and media adhered to the Election Commission (EC) guidelines.
This is the reason that the results declared so far have shown that many of the 10 million or so voters have been able to register their disappointment with the political parties and leaders who have ruled the roost since 1992.
Those parties and their leaders led the people astray, made outlandish promises they never kept, and yet they were re-elected time and time again. Not this time. They could not fool all the people all the time.
Nepal’s voters said enough is enough. And they have used their adult franchise to give many leaders the boot, handing over the reigns to young and independent candidates a chance to set things right.
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As of now, independent and Rastriya Swatantra Party candidates had won 7 seats, and were leading in 1 more. Popular rebel candidates who had been refused tickets by their parties managed to oust those who had.
To be sure, the governing NC and the opposition UML have still come out on top — repeating the scenario of much of the 1990s. The Maoists have been punished for bad behaviour, corruption, and incompetence, especially as part of the 5-party coalition since last year.
Candidates advocating a return to monarchy and those espousing an anti-secular stance have been mostly rejected by voters. The Madhes-based JSP and LSP have been penalised by Tarai voters for squandering the gains of the Madhes Movement and becoming offshoots of made-in-Kathmandu parties.
All this gives us hope that despite shortcomings, Nepal’s federal democracy is on track. Nepalis have once more endorsed the ballot over the bullet, they have given fresh new candidates the chance, but most of all, they have punished non-performing, inept and corrupt leaders.
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But this elections also exposed the need for urgent reforms that need to be planned way in advance of the next polls five years from now.
Although voters are now much more savvy and are aware of their rights and choices, political parties still get away with manipulation, creating confusion among voters. Forming a coalition to share seats is a form of rigging. Coalitions are supposed to be formed after elections, not before.
The high proportion of invalid votes is proof that voter education needs improvement. It should be an ongoing process in the years between elections.
Nearly 5 million Nepalis are working, studying or living abroad. The Supreme Court ruled that they should be allowed to vote, but successive governments have dragged their feet because they fear those abroad are anti-incumbent — which they probably are.
Absentee balloting should be allowed. A quarter of voters are disenfranchisaed because they are abroad or cannot travel to home districts to vote.
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In this day and age it should be a simple matter to allow voting by mail. Early voting should also be allowed, and public transport made to ply to make it easier on election day to get to voting booths. The whole country does not need to come to a standstill on E-Day.
This election showed that candidates and parties do not have to spend a whole lot of money to get votes. Those whose campaign spending was less than even the threshold stipulated by the EC have beaten those who spent tens of millions to buy votes. The quality of representation cannot depend on cash, and the time has come for political parties to be funded by public money.
The root of corruption in Nepal is campaign funding of candidates by big business. We have now got to the point where Nepal’s richest men are themselves standing in elections, further blurring the lines between business and politics.
The infusion of new blood in this election does not guarantee that the stranglehold of discredited big parties in the country will be broken any time soon. Coalition politics is not necessarily bad, but horse-trading and pre-paid positions that it comes with may mean that not much will change.
The young independents will need a steep learning curve to adapt to parliamentary politics, being accountable and transparent and ensuring that all boats rise with the tide.
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