Significant Number of Votes Invalid, Wasted
The threat of violence, the boycott called by the agitating Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N), and the monsoon rains, did not deter voters as they should have. Instead, the voter turnout in the second phase of the Local Election on June 29 was encouraging. The ballot invalidation rate from that day, however, is less so. According to documents obtained by Onward Nepal, in some Terai districts, the rate of invalid votes is as high as the voter turnout itself! The Election Commission has neither formally reported nor publicly published data on the invalid votes of both the first and second phases of Nepal’s Local Elections held on May 14 and June 29, respectively.
The total number of invalid votes in the 2008 Constituent Assembly (CA) elections was 5.15 percent. During the second CA election in 2013, it dropped to 4.96 percent. A first look at the invalidation rate in the Local Election 2017, held after two decades, reveals an exceptionally high percentage of votes being rendered invalid.
The Election Commission is reported to have spent approximately Rs.750 million on voter education. Yet, the high number of invalid votes even in the capital of the country raises serious questions about the voter education drive’s effectiveness, and perhaps, arguably even the results.
The rate of vote invalidation in almost all municipalities including rural municipalities is exceptionally high. Dalit and women candidates are reserved posts, for which the ballot paper had a separate column. This did complicate the voting process. Even educated urban voters found the ballot confusing.
Lalitpur district in Kathmandu valley, had the highest rate of invalid votes in the first phase of the election with 17.1 percent ballots stamped wrongly. Kalikot, a remote hill district, had 16.6 percent invalid votes, while Kathmandu district placed third with 16.2 percent votes rendered invalid.
The rate of invalid votes for other posts in Terai districts is also a cause for concern.
Nawalparasi district in Terai makes for a compelling example. In its Pratappur municipality, the average rate of invalid votes is 41.65 percent. The invalid vote rate in Ward 8 of the municipality is 69.99 percent of the total 1,596 votes cast for the female Dalit candidate. A total of 62.41 percent votes cast for women representatives in the ward was also invalid.
Also in Pratappur, a total of 28.57 percent votes cast for the post of Chairperson was invalid. The rate of invalid votes cast in the municipality for the Ward Chairperson post ranges from 17 to 35 percent.
Of the 14,604 votes cast for the post of Chairperson of the Phalhinandan Rural Municipality, 20.68 per cent votes have been found invalid.
A six- party alliance of Madhes-based parties, the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal officially boycotted the polls. Only two votes were cast in Sarawal Rural Municipality of the district. The rest – 504 registered voters boycotted the election, protesting the unresolved issues of Madhesi people.
2008 CA Election
2013 CA Election
Election Commission Spokesperson Surya Prasad Sharma, on official report on invalid votes.
We have not made the report yet.
Local Election 2017, Phase 2, June 29.
Palhinanda Rural Municipality
Pratapur Rural Municipality
Sarawal Rural Municipality
Susta Rural Municipality
Election observers are yet to come up with the final report as well. In the first round of Local Elections, they blamed lack of voter education for the high rates of invalid votes.
In Terai districts, the rate of invalidation can be higher as even major political parties could not educate their voters due to protests by agitating Madhesi parties.
Final tally: Phases 1 and 2
The CPN (UML) has emerged as the largest party winning 276 of 617 local units. The ruling party, Nepali Congress, have won only 226 local units. Nepali Congress is the largest party with 195 seats in the 601-member parliament, while the UML is the second largest party with 175 seats. The CPN (Maoist Centre), which was the largest party in the first Constituent Assembly election in 2008 with 240 seats, has won only 84 local units. The Maoist Centre ended up being elected as the third largest party in the second CA election in 2013.
Although UML, a centre-left party, has won the largest number of local units in the second round of elections, the difference in popular votes with the rival party, NC, is hardly significant. UML leads by 50 local units, but has received only 42,461 more votes than the NC.
UML Chair KP Sharma Oli, is very critical of demands made by Madhesi people; demands that include amendments to the Constitutional review of provincial boundary and the creation of local units in Madhesi districts based on population size, among others. This could be the reason why Oli’s party received only 2,698,736 votes, while NC received 2,656,275 votes.
The Maoist Centre has become the third-largest party by winning in 84 local units. It obtained a total of 1,275,035 votes, which is almost half of what UML and NC received in the polls.
The second round of election also failed to elect women to top executive posts. In fact, the number of elected female mayors has declined significantly in the second round of election as compared to the first round. Only one woman was elected mayor this time, while there were four female mayors in the first phase. The number of ward chairs has also declined from 27 to 25.
It should be noted here that the second round of election was held in 334 local units, while the first round included 283 local bodies.
If we were to compare female representation in the two phases of elections by number of candidates, there is no marked difference. As in the first phase, fewer women competed for top executive posts. A total of 79 female candidates were fielded for mayoral posts, while only 93 contested for 119 top executive municipality posts. Seventy-two women competed as candidates for 215 rural municipality chairs.
The record representation of women in the Local Elections is due to the Local Level Election Act that mandates 40 percent representation of women in local bodies.
That law also requires the fielding of a female candidate for one of the top posts—either as chief or deputy chief of a local unit. Political parties need to field at least two women including a Dalit woman in each ward as well.
Like in the first round of the Local Election, the second phase also had 40 percent female representation in seven member local bodies. Of the 11,554 female representatives elected in the two phases of elections, 5,272 are Dalit women. This is 24 percent of the total number of elected women.
Calendar for Phase 3 of Local Election:
The Election Commission has set September 6 as the day for filing candidate nominations for the third phase of the elections in Province 3.
As per the election schedule, aspiring candidates will have to file their nominations in their respective municipalities and rural municipalities between 10 AM and 5 PM on the day. The list of candidates will be published at 5:30 PM on the same day.
Complaints against the candidates, if any, will have to be registered between 10 AM to 1 PM on September 7. Candidacies can be withdrawn on September 8. The final list of candidates will be published on September 9. The Commission will also assign election symbols to parties and candidates on the same day.
The third round of Local Elections has been scheduled for September 18. Voting will be conducted in 127 local units of eight districts of Province 2.
The government delayed the election to address the concerns of Madhes-based parties. Province 2 is believed to be a stronghold of the RJP-N which has boycotted the second round of elections.
Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, elected Prime Minister on June 7, is promising to address the concerns of the agitating parties. Madhesi parties have been demanding amendment to the newly promulgated Constitution.
The Amendment bill has been registered in parliament already. However, the government has not moved the bill forward for endorsement. A two-third majority support is required for endorsement of the bill.
In a meeting held on Wednesday in Baluwatar, the government promised agitating forces that it would fulfill all demands besides the Constitution Amendment. Other demands include withdrawal of cases against protesters, and livelihood support to those injured during the Madhes protest. The government also promised to increase the number of local units in proportion to population, which at the moment is impossible due to a Supreme Court ruling.
The apex court on May 26 had stayed the government decision to increase 22 local units in Terai districts. The decision was taken to appease Madhes-based parties and bring them on board for the second phase of the elections held on June 14.
Provincial and Parliament election
Twenty-two months after the promulgation of the new Constitution, the government finally formed a five-member Constituency Delineation Commission (CDC) for provincial and parliamentary elections to be held by January 21.
A Cabinet meeting on Thursday formed the Commission under the convenorship of former Supreme Court Justice Kamal Narayan Das. The CDC has been mandated to reduce the existing 240 election constituencies to 165 for Parliamentary election and delineate 330 constituencies for Provincial elections.
The Commission has been asked to prepare the report within 21 days.
However, the Election Commission has urged the government to complete the task of constituency delineation by July 30. It has also started updating voter lists to accommodate missing eligible voters throughout the country.
Madhav Adhikari, Bishwakalyan Parajuli, and Ganesh Raj Karki are members of the Commission. Yogendra Sharma Paudel, a Secretary in the government, is the Member-Secretary of the Commission.
Adhikari was a member of the Local Level Restructuring Commission, which determined the number of local units for Local Elections under the newly introduced federal setup. He is also a Geography teacher at Tribhuvan University. Parajuli heads the Sociology department at Prithvi Narayan Campus, and Karki is a was formerly a Joint Secretary.
As per Constitutional provisions, population size and geography are to be taken into account while delineating constituencies. The Commission is to also consider convenience of administration and transportation, communal and cultural aspects, in order to determine constituencies.