Kingdom of Nepal: Parliamentary Elections, May 12, 1991
"I welcome Nepal to the Third World Democracies·, proclaimed Ishtiaq Ahmed, an election observer from Bangladesh. He mirrored the sentiments of the sixty-four international delegation members who observed Nepal's first parliamentary elections since 1959 held on May 12, 1991. This delegation representing 22 countries was hosted by the Nepal National Election Observation Committee (NEOC), a private non-partisan organization.
Eight observers from the United States participated in the international election observer delegation. The U.S. observers were sponsored by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in cooperation with the National Democratic and National Republican Institutes for International Affairs (NDIIA and NRIIA). Prior to departure, the U.S. observers were familiarized with the political and electoral process of Nepal through IFES pre-election activities which began in October 1990. Representatives of IFES made three pre-election visits to Nepal to 1) study the development and progress of the political and electoral process; 2) evaluate the need for civic education programs; and 3) assess the need of electoral commodities for the May 12 election.
The seven-day mission began with the observers arriving in Kathmandu four days prior to the election for briefings by US Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch and her staff. Prime Minister K. P. Bhattarai welcomed the entire international delegation prior to a series of briefings organized by NEOC on the procedural and political aspects of the election. The international delegation was divided into three-member teams in order to canvass nineteen of Nepal's seventy-five administrative districts and five of the ten constituencies in the Kathmadu Valley. NEOC and its district level committees organized these local site visits. The field duties of election observers included discussions with election officials, party candidates, representatives of civic organizations, and private citizens on the conduct of the election and visits to polling centers on election day. Selected observers watched the vote count at district centers before returning to Kathmandu where each group offered its report. A drafting committee, including U.S. observer Kenneth Melley, was formed to prepare an interim draft report which was debated, revised, and released the afternoon of May 14.
The international delegation stated:
... that the elections were generally conducted in a manner fair, free, and open, enabling the full expression of the will of the people. In the opinion of the International Observer Delegation, the conduct of the May 12 election in Nepal satisfies the generally accepted principle providing for the right of political participation .... We leave Nepal with the firm belief that the Nepali people are on the path of multi-party democracy and that this process will be respected and supported by the international community.
Election results from the 205 constituencies reveal that approximately 7 million of about 11 million eligible voters cast a ballot. Analysis of the conduct of the election showed a general absence of violence. It had been predicted that five to twenty percent of the polling centers might experience unrest. A former prime minister had publicly stated that violence would be part of an intentional campaign to intimidate voters associated with certain political parties. These concerns proved greatly exaggerated although there were a few serious instances of polling place harassment and violence. Forty-five of 8,225 polling centers required repolling. Credit for a peaceful election belongs to the Nepalese voter, the Election Commission and its staff, and the Home Ministry which was assigned security responsibilities.
Many analysts had predicted that the Nepali Congress Party would gain a plurality but not a majority of votes. The analysts had thought the balance of the seats would be distributed between the various communist parties and the two National Democratic Parties containing elements of the old political leadership. However, Congress did gain a majority of the seats, but the NDP parties were only able to win four seats. The communists parties did better than expected by garnering 4 out of 5 seats in the Kathmadu Valley, sweeping the Prime Minister out of office and accumulating a total of 82 seats in the new parliament. The election resulted in the emergence of two dominant political parties which will have to develop a working relationship for votes requiring a two-thirds majority, such as ratification of treaties. Detailed election results are included later in this report.
The organizational framework and successful functioning of the Nepal Election Commission and NEOC provide valuable lessons for emerging democracies organizing multiparty elections. There were some aspects of the electoral process, however, which should be studied in order to make the system operate in a more effective manner. Recommendations are offered in this report in a spirit of strengthening the electoral process.
In summation, the U.S. observer delegation was privileged to have witnessed Nepal's first freely held multiparty parliamentary elections since 1959 and shares the hope for the continuation of Nepal's strong commitment to a democratic society.
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