Kingdom of Nepal: Technical Assessment of Election System Performance: Parliamentary General Elections
On 17 May 1999 the Kingdom of Nepal completed its parliamentary general elections. The elections were held in two phases. On 3 May 1999, the first phase was held in 36 Districts. On 17 May 1999 the second phase was held in the remaining 39 Districts. Most observers viewed the election as basically free and fair. A total of 8,894,664 (67.49%) of the 13,518,813 registered voters cast their ballots in an atmosphere of relative peace and order.
A number of reforms have been introduced since the 1994 elections. A voter registration law has been passed; a program for the distribution of voter ID cards has been started; a code of conduct was issued; the mixing of ballots from more than one polling station to eliminate the possibility of reprisals was instituted; and modern technology tit speed the collation and announcement of election results was used. The difficult security problems in the country required the Commission to run a two-phased election to ensure adequate security at all polling stations.
Despite the success of the election, the Election Commission of Nepal, political parties, and international and domestic observers identified a number of problems in the conduct of the 1999 elections. These problems centered on:
• Location and number of voters at polling stations
• Identification of voters in areas with ID cards
• Allegations of violations of the election code of conduct
• Resolution of election complaints
• Violation of campaign expenditure limits
Through funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Foundation for Election Systems' (IFES) Senior Advisor for Election Administration Joe Baxter traveled to Nepal from 26 December 1999 to 7 January 2000 to assess the current administrative and procedural framework of Nepal's election system and to explore possible areas for improvement of the process. During the mission, Mr. Baxter met with officials from the Election Commission of Nepal and civil society organizations interested in the electoral process.
The assessment found that the 1999 elections represented a significant improvement over previous elections. The introduction of a number of reforms appreciably improved the administration of the process. The Election Commission should be commended for improvements it has made thus far. Continued improvement in the administration of elections can be expected in the future provided that the Election Commission builds on the experience gained in the 1999 elections and maintains an open dialogue with the political parties and civil society organizations interested in the democratic process.
The assessment identified three broad areas of the election administration process in Nepal where changes might improve and strengthen the election process. The areas are:
1. Strengthening of the Structure for Election Administration
The assessment found that while the Election Commission has made an excellent beginning in planning to open offices in all 75 districts in Nepal (five opened in 1995, 25 to open in 2000, 25 in 200 I and 20 in 2(03), much more attention should be focused on the human resource issues related to the establishment of these offices.
2. Voter Registration and the Voter ID Card Process
The assessment found that the review of the voter register in 2000 will result in a much more credible register for future elections, but there is potential for serious problems related to the issuance of voter ID cards and the lack of Election Commission control over the process.
3. Electoral Code of Conduct
The assessment found that the Code of Conduct used for the May 1999 elections was an excellent start in developing a Code that establishes the necessary conditions for a free and fair campaign process. However, there were a number of problems evident in the enforcement of provisions of the Code in 1999 that warrant a review of the provisions with the political parties.
This report discusses each of these areas III detail and makes the following recommendations: •
1. The development plan of the Election Commission should be reviewed in light of the 1999 election and the issuance of voter ID cards in five districts. A special focus should be on the human resource needs of the Commission. This review should address the impact of the establishment of Commission offices in the 75 districts (25 in 2000), the responsibilities of the staff of the offices, the Commission's assumption of the day-to-day administration of voter registration, and the issuance of voter ID cards.
2. The Commission should begin the process of creating the enabling environment for the establishment of its own independent professional secretariat outside the regular civil service system, along the lines of the Judicial Service.
3. Given the fact that voters must appear at a fixed site center to have a photograJl!1 taken for their ID card, the Commission should consider revising its current voter registration 2000 plans to provide for citizens to appear at a particular location for the purpose of registering to vote and/or having a photograph taken for issuance of a voter ID card. Funds saved from payment to enumerators traveling house to house might then be used to by the Commission to hire its own registrars for the fixed site centers and eliminate the need for local Ministry of Home Affairs staff. This would mean that the Commission would have direct control over each center, as is the norm in other democracies.
4. With the establishment of the 25 district offices in 2000 and the distribution of voter ID cards in those districts, the Commission should make it possible for persons in those districts to register to vote at the district office at any time during the year. This would entail the Commission establishing a permanent and on-going voter registration system and the district offices assuming the responsibility for the manufacture and distribution of the voter ID cards on a day-to-day basis.
5. The Commission should acquire the necessary storage and data management capacity to adequately manage the voter registration database, including the photographs of registered voters.
6. The Commission should convene a workshop of political parties and civil society organizations interested in the election process to review the conduct of the 1999 General Election, the Commission's future plans for the establishment of offices in all 75 districts, the issuance of ID cards in 2000, and the status of registered voters who do not obtain ID cards. Special emphasis should also be placed on review of the Code of Conduct in light of the 1999 election.
During Mr. Baxter's visit, the Election Commission of Nepal made its staff available for extensive interviews and its records available to Mr. Baxter. IFES wishes to thank the Election Commission of Nepal for the cooperation extended to Mr. Baxter during his stay.