KATHMANDU, March 2: Tensions ran high at the Election Commission (EC) on Wednesday after election commissioners and government ministers had a heated debate regarding the election code of conduct that has been brought into force for the upcoming local elections.
At a meeting, a section of the ministers expressed dissatisfaction over some provisions of the code of conduct immediately after EC Secretary Gopinath Mainali presented details about the code. The meeting was called to brief the ministers but it turned into a debate after the ministers alleged that the commission had introduced tougher provisions in the code than in the past.
Ministers representing the hill regions urged the commissioners to lift a ban on the use of helicopters during the election campaign, while ministers from the southern plains demanded that the number of vehicles allowed for use in electioneering be increased. "How can you conduct elections without using helicopters?" questioned Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Jiwan Bahadur Shahi after Secretary Mainali informed the meeting about the ban on helicopter use.
The ministers are also barred from visiting polling areas and from inaugurating new development projects. Dismayed by the barring of minister from project inaugurations, Urban Development Minister Arjun Narsingh KC asked for a relaxation of the relevent provision.
"The code of conduct will not be breached just because a minister inaugurates a development project," said KC, demanding that the regular development process should not be obstructed in the name of holding elections.
When the ministers one after another began to object to the code of conduct, the election commissioners came out with strong warnings. "Honorable ministers, it's okay if you go to the district headquarters, but do not try to reach the village councils and municipal councils," said EC chief Ayodhee Prasad Yadav, adding, "Ministers should not be going to their election constituencies on the pretext of post-earthquake reconstruction work or with any political motive."
The EC believes the elections could be influenced if the government is allowed to launch new development projects and ministers visit election constituencies purportedly to lay the foundation stones for such projects.
The code of conduct came into force from Wednesday. It bars the government from carrying out any recruitment, promotion or transfer of civil servants and from allocating budgets for new development projects. The code is already in effect for the government and will apply to the political parties, candidates, media, I/NGOs and other stakeholders after the parties register their nominations at the local level.
The code allows a candidate to use a four-wheeler and two motorcycles during campaigning. A candidate can also use two horses if his/her constituency has no motor vehicles. The code bars the political parties from resorting to wall graffiti, use of banners, face paintings and loudspeakers, which were common during all past elections.
The code has a provision for slapping a fine of Rs 100,000 on code violators. Similarly, any sitting minister found involved in breaching the code will be barred from contesting elections for six years.