KATHMANDU, Jan 30: The Election Commission (EC) is gradually losing its autonomy, with the government curtailing the powers the election body had been enjoying previously in its capacity as a constitutional body.
The long-exercised powers of the election body have been curtailed at a time when the election commissioners and experts have been pressing the government to give the EC more autonomy to conduct elections in an independent manner.
The Election Commission Act recently endorsed by parliament has barred the election body from procuring logistics through. fast-track during times of urgency. “From now onwards, the Election Commission needs to wait for a special decision by the government if it needs to purchase logistics without going through a public procurement process,” said the EC’s legal division chief, Sushil Koirala.
Previously, the EC used to purchase essential logistics without adhering to public procurement regulations if serious time constraints were involved. The Act has also barred the EC from dealing directly with the international community and signing bilateral agreements on its own over logistics arrangements. Earlier, the EC used to sign bilateral agreements with donors and the international community and later inform the Ministry of Finance (MoF), the line ministry, to that effect.
The government, however, has inserted a provision that the EC can sign an agreement only after the MoF gives its consent. The provision, according to government officials privy to the development, was inserted on the ground that the EC should also function in accordance with the development policy of the government.
Election experts have warned that in the context of the government curtailing the powers of the EC one after another, it may not be able to conduct elections on time . “It takes 45 days for a public procurement when logistics worth millions are involved, and another 45 days may be taken up by disappointed firms bringing complaints against the selection process,” said former chief election commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety. “How can the EC mandated to conduct elections within 120 days stick to the legal procedures and still purchase all the logistics required?” he asked.
Uprety, who had successfully conducted the 2013 Constituent Assembly elections, said he would not have been able to arrange voter ID cards and other essential logistics at the last moment if such tougher provisions had been in force during his stint. The EC had arranged the voter cards in less than two weeks by fast-tracking both the purchasing process and the printing in 2013.
The EC has proposed to the government that the Prime Ministers’ Office act as the line agency for the election body. The government, however, has retained the Ministry of Home Affairs as the focal point for the election body. “It seems the government is trying to turn the EC into a department under the Home Ministry, as was envisioned under then king Gyanendra, and not allow it function as a powerful constitutional body,” said Uprety.
The EC had sought the power of set the poll dates on its own but the government has not obliged. Since the authority to set poll dates rests largely with the government and the political parties, Nepal’s periodic elections have been delayed for years. The election body’s proposal to enforce a threshold provision to check the growing tendency of party registrations has also been questioned in the parliamentary committee. Most of the smaller parties have stood against the threshold provision as they want the status of national parties and the state funds that come along with it.