KATHMANDU, July 30: The Supreme Court (SC) on Sunday ordered a fresh election in Ward Number 19 of Bharatpur Metropolitan City.
A division bench of justices Om Prakash Mishra and Purushottam Bhandari passed the verdict, quashing the writ petition filed against the Election Commission (EC)'s decision to conduct a fresh poll after the CPN (Maoist Center) polling agents deliberately tore 90 ballot papers while vote counting was still underway.
Advocate Tulasi Pandey and CPN-UML candidate for Bharatpur Metropolitan City-19, Gunjan Man BK had filed the writ petition on June 4 against the EC's decision after vote counting was halted following the tearing of ballot papers.
The Maoist Center polling agents tore the ballot papers when UML mayoral candidate Devi Gyawali was leading the poll by 733 votes as the vote counting of Ward Number 19 was underway. While Gyawali had received a total of 41,641 votes, Maoist Center's candidate Renu Dahal was trailing behind him with 40,908 votes.
The election in Bharatpur metropolis has been keenly observed nationwide as the CPN (Maoist Center) candidate Renu Dahal happens to be the daughter of the party's Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal. The Maoist Center had forged electoral alliance with the Nepali Congress (NC) to contain the UML.
Following the ballot paper tearing incident on May 28, the vote counting was halted not only of Ward Number 19 but also the remaining Ward Number 20. EC had subsequently decided to go for re-polling, claiming that the vote counting venue was taken under control in illegitimate way.
The apex court verdict on Sunday stated that the demand of representatives of the political parties concerned to put off the ongoing vote counting after the ballot paper tearing incident and the fact that a team sent by EC subsequently to make a field study found that a total of 90 ballot papers were torn proved that the venue of vote counting was indeed captured. Citing sections 50 (1 b) of the Local Level Election Act, 2017, the verdict states that the incident, which involved tearing of ballot papers after seizing them from the polling officer, was a case of capture that left the polling officers unable to discharge their duty.
Saying that the Clause 50 (2, 3, 4 and 5) of the Act clearly states that EC can cancel entire election after such incidents and Chief Returning Officer concerned can declare the place, date and time for a re-poll, the apex court said that the EC's decision of re-poll was in line with the existing election related laws.
The SC turned down the demand of the petitioners to keep aside the torn ballot papers, terming them as invalid votes, and resume the vote counting. Citing Section 51 (1) of the Act, the court said that only the ballot papers which are found torn down when taken out of the ballot box and the ballot papers with smudged ink can be considered invalid votes.
Advocates Krishna Prasad Bhandari, Ram Prasad Shrestha, Laxmi Bahadur Nirala, Hari Prasad Upreti, Rabi Khanal, Satish Krishna Kharel, Tika Ram Bhattarai, Ramesh Badal, Baburam Dahal, Baburam Giri, Khil Lal Devkota, Ishwari Prasad Bhattarai, Gobinda Bandi, Bijaya Kant Mainali, Chandra Kanta Gyawali, among others, had pleaded on behalf of the petitioners, demanding resumption of the ongoing vote counting.
Similarly, Attorney General Raman Kumar Shrestha, Deputy Attorney General Kiran Paudel, senior advocate duo Mahadev Prasad Yadav and Harihar Dahal, among others, had defended the case on behalf of the Election Commission and the Office of the Chief Returning Officer.
UML candidate Devi Gyawali termed the court's verdict as 'a reward to thief'. “It is tantamount to rewarding a thief and punishing a saint,” Gyawali told Republica after the court verdict.
Despite reservation over the court verdict, Gyawali said his will counter the court verdict through peoples' mandate in the election. “Ballots were torn with ill-intent and we had moved the court seeking to correct the wrongdoing. The court order is not as per our expectation. Still, we are not discouraged and will prove our victory in the election once again,” said Gyawali.
Gyawali said that conspiracies are still being hatched to stop the UML party from winning elections. “We are beginning the election campaign soon exposing this sad incident. It's up to the people to ensure justice,” he said.
Maoist candidate Dahal, who is also backed by the ruling Nepali Congress, said the court verdict was a welcome move. "The court has issued its order in accordance with the existing constitution and law. We were awaiting the same and will go among voters from tomorrow," said Dahal.