Court ruling on separate ballots raises concerns

- SANJEEV GIRI, Kathmandu

Oct 27, 2017-A Supreme Court (SC) ruling on Wednesday asking the Election Commission (EC) to make arrangements for separate ballot papers for the federal and provincial polls under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system has stoked concerns about the scheduled elections.

While the ruling raises some technical issues, there are also concerns about possible political fallout—and a situation of constitutional vacuum—should the elections get postponed. 

As far as the election cycle is concerned, the ball is in the EC’s court, analysts said, adding that the poll body can expedite ballot paper printing to ensure elections on time. Or, elections can be held in yet another phase after December 7, they said.

The federal and provincial polls are scheduled for November 26 and December 7. FPTP nominations for the November 26 polls were filed on October 22. 

“The court ruling should not affect the elections. The EC will have to take the call,” said constitution expert Bipin Adhikari. “The EC has enough time to weigh options and ensure logistics for the elections.”

The SC’s ruling on Wednesday came in response to a contempt of court writ filed by Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N) leader Sarbendra Nath Shukla.

Shukla in his earlier petition filed at the apex court on October 8 had demanded an interim order to the EC to print separate ballot papers for the FPTP system. The SC on October 18 ruled that “there is no need to issue an interim order as demanded by the petitioner”, adding that “the EC will but pay due consideration to the issue of printing separate ballots for the FPTP system”. 

The RJP-N leader again on Tuesday filed a contempt of court writ, saying the chief election commissioner had defied the court order about giving due consideration to the issue of printing separate ballots. 

“The first ruling was a bit confusing. The second one, however, is clear,” Adhikari said, adding that Wednesday’s order clearly states that there must be two ballot papers for the FPTP system. 

The EC had completed printing 17.2 million ballots for proportional representation system in 25 days. Going by that, printing ballot papers for 3.19 million voters for the first phase of elections to be held in 32 districts should not take more than two weeks—even if it has to arrange separate ballot papers. 

EC officials, however, said the ballot paper issue entails other technical aspects as well. The first one is it needs to buy more ballot boxes if it were to arrange separate ballot papers. There are other aspects like voter education and rules and regulations, which need to be revised, said an EC official. 

Even if the technical aspects are left aside, there are concerns from some parties, particularly the left alliance of the CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre), and a section of civil society about the “timing of the ruling”. 

The ruling came just three days after the nominations for the FPTP system were filed and at a time when one of the three pillars of democracy was not in function. 

The left alliance was quick to call a press meet on Thursday where it warned against any move to defer polls. “Postponing the elections under any pretext will be a threat to democratic practice. It will be harmful to Nepal and the Nepali people,” reads a joint statement issued by the left alliance. 

There are also some who say the SC ruling “is in line with the interest of the ruling Nepali Congress”, as its President and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is in a bid to buy more time in view of the electoral alliance formed by two communist forces. Leaders of the left alliance have even said that Parliament, which was dissolved on October 14, could be revived if elections were postponed. 

Published: 27-10-2017 07:32

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