Muted voices

  • Ideas such as ‘right to no vote’ should have been discussed before lawmakers dropped them

Sep 6, 2017-

Parliament on Monday finally endorsed the much awaited election bills. One bill is related to the conduct of federal polls, while the other is related to provincial elections. Both are necessary for the Election Commission’s preparations for the upcoming elections. By all rights, these bills should have been endorsed a long time ago. However, now that they have finally been passed, we can move towards polls. The EC has less than two months to prepare for fair and transparent polls, and these bills will aid their efforts. The likelihood that elections will be held before the constitutionally mandated deadline of January 2018 has increased.

A lifetime bar from partaking in polls has now been imposed on citizens convicted of corruption and other serious crimes. The Nepali Congress initially opposed this feature and argued that convicted criminals should be allowed to partake in elections and serve as lawmakers after they served their jail terms. In the face of severe criticism, however, the NC retracted their objections, signalling that perhaps cronyism and the systemic support of corrupt individuals is dwindling in Nepal. Lawmakers will have to be extra careful of their endorsements; voters increasingly have displayed greater vigilance when it comes to the conduct of their leaders. The bills also state that parties have to ensure the representation of Dalits, women, and indigenous nationalities in fielding candidates, or when they elect lawmakers from the proportional representation system. In a country where education and a range of other opportunities are not equally distributed among all groups, such a provision will go a long way in ensuring that the voice of every Nepali is heard.

It is interesting that the ‘right to no vote’ provision has been removed from both bills, however. This feature stems from the idea that citizens under any democratic system should have the right to choose their own candidate for representation in houses of legislature; when a citizen deems that none of the candidates in their constituency are worthy of their vote, then the voter must be allowed the option to abstain from picking a candidate. This would ensure that even citizens dissatisfied with candidate choices would still be a part of the voting process.

The Supreme Court upheld a citizen’s right to no vote in a 2014 ruling. Due to objections mainly from the CPN-UML, this provision was left out of the recently endorsed bills. However, there should have been further public debate on this idea before adoption or negation. More democracies around the world, including our neighbours Bangladesh and India, are adopting the idea that abstaining from picking candidates is an electoral right. Nepalis should have been allowed debate on whether the right to no vote is more powerful a tool for voicing rejection of fielded candidates instead of just abstaining from voting if they are dissatisfied with choices.

Published: 06-09-2017 08:08

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