With just 21 days left until the elections to the House of Representatives (HoR) and the provincial assemblies, the political parties, their candidates and cadres, supporters, and independent nominees have already begun nationwide canvassing to win over voters. However, the election code of conduct, which was issued a couple of weeks ago by the Election Commission (EC) after holding consultations with the political parties as key stakeholders, allows the parties and contestants to carry out their publicity campaigns in full swing merely 17 days before the polling date. The poll code prevents them from holding marches, mass gatherings and corner meetings prior to November 3 as the elections are scheduled to be held on November 20. Despite such a provision, political parties and contestants were found utilising the festivals of Dashain, Tihar and Chhath for courting their relatives, friends and well-wishers.
The political parties and candidates will also have to wait until November 3 to start broadcasting or publishing any poll-related contents in media and organising door-to-door campaigns. As elections have now been very expensive, resulting in various political aberrations, the poll authority has come up with such a norm in order to control election spending by parties and candidates. When money becomes a dominant factor in elections, dedicated and deserving candidates are likely to lose polls to the dishonest and unworthy ones. But it has become an extremely challenging task for the election body to effectively monitor the activities of the political parties and contenders because of its limited human resources and budget.
However, the EC seems to have remained determined to hold the forthcoming elections in a free, fair and credible manner. It has tried to check the growing abuse of social media in order to stop dissemination of false information and other rumours against any political party or candidate. When such faked information spreads rampantly, it may mislead the voters thereby creating a situation where unfit persons are likely to emerge as winners. Voters also need to remain alert against such rumours. It is sad to note here that even top leaders of different political parties have been found mudslinging each other. They must shun this type of activity as it does not help foster a desired political culture in the country.
The arbitrary choice of candidates by the political parties often creates a sense of listlessness among voters. Nepotism and cronyism appear to have been widespread among political parties while offering opportunities. This type of wrong practice is quite frustrating for genuine party members and supporters as well as general voters. Many voters are found least interested in 'tourist candidates.' In addition, voters are bound to vote for those whom they do not prefer because of different poll alliances formed by parties. Voters tend to judge the parties and candidates on the basis of the latter’s vision, integrity and commitment.
The political parties as well as candidates have been very busy formulating their respective election manifestoes. Electoral campaigns will be accelerated with the issuance of such documents. Manifestoes are a public declaration of policy and aims issued prior to an election by a political party or candidate. These documents are very important as they are the pledges made to people. Voters cast their ballots for parties and/or candidates on the basis of the latter’s track record. What is equally appealing to voters is the poll manifesto unveiled by the parties. But interestingly, most voters in Nepal hardly take such documents as seriously as they should have. This is mainly because of the failure on the part of the political parties and their candidates to materialise their commitments accordingly.
While drafting their poll manifestoes, the parties need to focus on upholding the hard-won constitution. The national charter had started getting implemented since the first three-tier elections were held in 2017. However, the statute and the federal system of governance have not been consolidated and institutionalised as some political parties have been unable to contribute sincerely in this connection. Some unconstitutional moves, including the dissolution of the HoR twice, were taken. Such steps have really dealt a fatal blow to the constitution. Therefore, all political parties must express their firm commitment towards safeguarding the constitution and implementing the federal system of governance successfully. Instead of violating the statute, they should go for amending its provisions that are deemed necessary.
Controlling corruption should be high on the agenda. The parties must be very serious about dealing with corruption as a chronic disease. The nation cannot make any significant economic progress without rooting out this form of irregularity. Voters must vote for the parties and candidates that come forward with commitments to end corruption and establish good governance. The parties also need to concentrate their efforts on achieving high economic growth along with job creation.
The parties should also come up with promises to adopt austerity measures and maintain fiscal discipline. A recent report unveiled by the Financial Comptroller General Office (FCGO) showed that government expenditure has exceeded income in the first three months of the current fiscal year. According to the report, the government’s income stood at Rs. 232.48 billion while its expenditure reached Rs.278.30 billion. This is a clear indication that the country’s fiscal scenario is not good.
Another major issue is that the country’s foreign debt has been increasing alarmingly over the years. The parties must show their commitment towards limiting foreign debt. There has also been a problem with projects not getting completed on time. Owing to this, even mega national pride projects have suffered much time and cost overruns. Meanwhile, the ruling Nepali Congress (NC) has made its election manifesto public. One of the remarkable pledges made by the party is that it will allow the parliament to complete its full term. It has also prioritised enhancing cooperation and coordination among the three tiers of government. Health, education, infrastructure development, establishment of good governance and creation of employment opportunities, among others, are incorporated in the party’s manifesto.
(Dahal is Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)