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Sharp drop in voter numbers draws flak

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The Election Commission (EC) registered a total of 17.6 million voters for the last Constituent Assembly (CA) election held in April, 2008. As Nepal witnessed a population growth by 3.3 million between the latest census of 2011 and the previous census a decade earlier, the expectation was that the number of voters registering with the EC this time round would also grow significantly.

But that number has seen a sharp decline, by 5.4 million from the total number of voters registered for the last CA election. This has taken many by surprise and ignited fresh controversy whether the statutory body has done its job with fairness.

While EC officials and experts say the number faithfully reflects the reality, leaders of Madhes-based political parties have taken exception to the figure, arguing that it is simply unacceptable.

When the EC this week concluded its fresh campaign for voter registration with photo and biometrics, the number of voters registering with it stood at 12.4 million. “This is just not acceptable for us,” said General Secretary of Sadbhawana Party Manish Suman.

Suman said the Supreme Court (SC) order was largely to blame for the lower number. “There may be many reasons behind the decrease in the number of voters registered. But I personally think the order by the apex court is the major reason,” he said.

A single bench of Justice Sushila Karki, responding to a writ petition filed by Advocate Purna Chandra Poudel at the apex court, ordered the EC on Monday not to register voters without citizenship certificates. The EC had recently issued a public notice to list voters on the basis of names registered for the last CA poll, even if they have no citizenship certificates. But that provision was in effect only for a few weeks.

Leaders of Madhes-based parties have demanded that the apex court review its recent order as it would deny a large number of people the right to take part in the election. “The election commission should implement in practice its slogan that there should be no one left to be registered in the new electoral rolls and no one should get registered twice.” Suman adds. “The number of missing voters (5.4 million) is no joke.”

EC officials, however, beg to differ over the reason for the lesser number of voters registered.

They argue that the total voter number has declined in comparison to 2008 as the new electoral roll with photo and biometrics is more scientific, avoiding completely any chance of duplication or registration of voters who are no longer alive. “There are no duplications in the new electoral rolls and one cannot find the names of voters who are already dead,” argued Election Commissioner Ayodhi Prasad Yadav while explaining the decrease in number of voters.

While a sizeable number of eligible voters have voluntarily chosen not to register with the EC, many others see the large number of Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf and elsewhere as the reason behind the decrease in number of voters registered.

“Large numbers of people have gone abroad for employment in recent years,” said former chief election commissioner Surya Prasad Shrestha. Some experts also tend to argue that disillusionment with the country´s politics has played an equally important role in the decrease in number of voters.

With the number of voters registering with the EC witnessing a drastic drop, most Madhes-based parties have demanded that the SC review its order making citizenship certificates mandatory and that the EC give voters yet another chance to registration.

However, EC Spokesman Bir Bahadur Rai rules out any possibility of giving another chance for voter registration for the November poll, citing time constraints. “It will affect our calendar of events which is already in force,” argued Rai.

As per the calendar of events issued recently by the constitutional body for the upcoming CA poll, it is now scheduled to ask voters to file objections or claims, if any, against the voter list, probe the issue, finalize the new electoral roll and publish it between July 15 and August 5.

Spokesman of Madhesi People´s Rights Forum (MPRF) Ratneshwor Lal Kayastha argued that since the country is going to elect a new CA to promulgate a new statute, the EC should leave no stone unturned to ensure that no one is deprived of the vote.

“The body concerned is silent about the missing voters, which means a conspiracy is afoot,” said Kayastha. The EC was hatching a conspiracy to deny a large number of eligible citizens their right to vote, he alleged.

But even if the EC chooses to give people another chance to registration in the voter roll, those who lack citizenship certificates will not be the beneficiaries as the apex court has already issued an interim order against the EC move to register voters without citizenship papers.

The EC on June 6 had set mid-July of this year as the registration cutoff date for those of eligible voting age for the upcoming CA election. The constitutional body had also decided that eligible citizens could register themselves in the new electoral rolls with photographs and biometrics by July 15.

According to Section B of Clause 5(1) in the Electoral Rolls Act, 2063, a Nepali citizen who has completed 18 years of age on or before the last day of the month of Chaitra (around 13 April) in the calendar year immediately preceding the year in which the electoral roll was compiled, will be eligible to vote.

As the EC nears completion of the necessary preparations for the November 19 poll, the fresh controversy over the lower number of voters registered is likely to snag those preparations.

(Source : The Republica Daily, 19 July, 2013)



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