Brush with controversies may weaken EC’s teeth

  • Vehicle purchase plan, call details of staffers among other issues in question
- Post Report, Kathmandu

Jun 25, 2017-

After a secretary was driven out of the Election Commission (EC) over its plan to buy four-wheelers, skeletons seem to be tumbling out of the closet, with many suspecting there could be a gallimaufry of them in Bahadur Bhawan. 

Gopinath Mainali’s transfer to the Prime Minister’s Office from the EC Secretariat on Thursday has left poll commissioners scrambling to defend their move to buy high-end vehicles. Mainali has alleged that the EC was planning to buy SUVs for commissioners “skirting the existing laws” and that he was transferred after he objected to the decision. 

But some other issues also have come to the fore. 

The poll body’s decision, taken three weeks ago, to seek call details of its own staffers from police also begs the question: Is it in violation of an apex court ruling on right to privacy?

The Supreme Court on February 4, 2016 had ruled that competent authorities can get access to data bank such as call details and SMSes for investigation of specific crimes only after taking permission from the concerned district court “until a legal provision comes into force on the matter”.

“The state cannot have access to individuals’ call details and SMSes and details related to individual’s body, housing, property, written statistics, letters and matters related to character without specific legal provision,” the bench had ruled.

The EC decision to seek call details, according to sources, was prompted by suspicion that “information was being exchanged in relation to the Bharatpur vote counting fracas”.

“Wrong information was being leaked” regarding re-election and resumption of vote counting and that had heavily influenced the EC decision-making, according to sources. 

On June 3, the EC had decided to conduct re-election in Bharatpur-19. The vote counting fiasco in Bharatpur Metropolitan City had sharply divided opinions. CPN-UML’s Devi Gyawali and Maoist Centre’s Renu Dahal are the mayoral candidates in the metropolis. Renu is daughter of Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who was the prime minister during the elections in Bharatpur.

Some 90 ballot papers were allegedly torn by the Maoist representatives on May 28 when vote counting was underway and Gyawali was leading. 

While the UML was demanding resumption of vote counting, the Maoist Centre was calling for re-election. 

One of the commissioners had objected to the EC decision of holding re-election in the ward in question. The decision stands stayed by the Supreme Court.

It is believed that Mainali was forced out of the EC for whistle-blowing not only on the vehicle purchase but also on EC’s other decisions, including one of seeking call details of its staffers over the vote counting row. 

On call details, a commissioner defended the move, saying leaking discussions of EC meetings itself is a crime. “We are ready to defend our decision in the court of law,” he said.  

On court ruling on right to privacy, SC Spokesperson Mahendra Nath Upadhyaya said: “The basic message of the SC ruling is that telephone call details, SMSes and other information that flow through telecom and digital technology cannot be made accessible to the state on normal conditions except in crime investigation. A certain legal process should be followed to accessing such details.”

But the question many are asking is whether incidents that have taken place recently do any good to a constitutional body like the EC. Poll commissioners have often been accused of working at the behest of political parties, which many describe as quite unbecoming of members of a constitutional body.

Such cases, experts say, must not be seen in isolation. The EC’s brush with such controversies could be detrimental to the whole democratic process, they say. 

Published: 25-06-2017 08:01

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