Political freedoms and the commitment of voters prevailed over violence and, despite shortcomings, the Election Commission delivered the elections within a tight timeframe
Kathmandu, 9 December – The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Nepal says the 26 November and 7 December elections to the House of Representatives and provincial assemblies demonstrated that political freedoms, such as association, assembly and expression, prevailed over the violent attacks of the election campaign period.
The EU EOM also commented that, while the Election Commission of Nepal (ECN) successfully organised in a very short timeframe the logistical aspects of the election in two phases, there was a notable lack of transparency in the work of the ECN, which affected the electoral process. For example, there is no mechanism for regular consultations with political parties, civil society and observers at the central level. Further, the ECN has not published critical information on polling centre turnout.
The EU EOM also mentioned that procedural weaknesses exist, particularly with regard to the reconciliation of ballots, which is detrimental to transparency. Presenting the mission’s preliminary statement in Kathmandu, Željana Zovko, EU Chief Observer said: “The 2017 elections to the House of Representatives and the provincial assemblies represent a key milestone in the implementation of the 2015 Constitution. Despite the violence designed to frustrate the electoral process, the two election days showed that voters were not deterred. Instead, millions of people throughout the country went to cast their ballots for peace, stability and a prosperous Nepal.”
The EU EOM also emphasised that the right to vote was extensively limited during these elections, as at least half a million people, namely election officials and security personnel on election duties, were denied an opportunity to vote. Around 170,000 people who turned 18 between the registration deadline and the election days were not permitted to register. In addition, the requirements to transfer voter registration are overly restrictive. The mission also noted that, although serious efforts were made, voter education was insufficient.
On 26 November and 7 December, over 100 EU observers observed the opening, voting and closing processes at 633 polling centres in 61 districts within all seven provinces. Despite the fact that the conduct of polling in 89% of polling centres visited was assessed positively, as good or very good, there was an assessment of bad or very bad conduct of polling recorded in 11% of the centres visited. Despite presenting the ECN-issued observer accreditation cards granting unhindered access to polling and counting centres, the EU Chief Observer said that EU observers were denied access or seriously restricted in their observation in 22 and 29 polling centres respectively.
Observers were also denied access to counting centres in ten districts during the first day of counting. Positively, the media environment during the election campaign period was generally free, although a few cases of limitations on the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press were observed. Monitoring of 13 national media outlets by the EU EOM showed a reasonably balanced coverage by public and private broadcasters and newspapers, with only the national station, Radio Nepal, allocating a disproportionate amount of airtime in favour of the Nepali Congress.
Neena Gill CBE, head of the European Parliament’s delegation, which joined the EU Election Observation Mission shortly before both election days, endorsed the preliminary statement of the EU EOM and stated: “The European Parliament is a great friend of Nepal. As the counting continues and the results are announced, I urge everyone to focus on inclusive political life, building confidence and trust, and to further strengthen the institutions that underpin democracy.”
Chief Observer, Željana Zovko, continued: “The counting process is still underway. This is a critical part of the election and it will be important to maintain a high level of transparency and integrity throughout. EU observers are observing the count in 41 centres in both phase one and phase two districts.”
The EU EOM is the largest international observation mission in the country and is in Nepal for the longest duration. It assessed the extent to which the electoral process complied with international and regional commitments for elections, as well as with the laws of Nepal.
The mission will continue to observe the electoral process independently and impartially, including the announcement of results, as well as any complaints and appeals. It will remain in Nepal until the completion of the process. A final report, including recommendations for future elections, will be published afterwards.