Political parties are preparing for local elections on May 13 and are busy selecting candidates for 753 local units across the country. Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission is also preparing. As the date of the elections approaches, the past functioning of local bodies is being assessed and campaign expenditure is again under discussion. Kamal Dev Bhattarai spoke with Ayodhi Prasad Yadav, the former Chief Election Commissioner who successfully conducted all three elections in 2017.
What is your impression of the upcoming municipal elections?
This is a periodic election held in accordance with constitutional provisions. Even though there are contradictory provisions in the constitution and electoral laws, the Election Commission finally decided to hold the elections before the expiration of the term of local governments.
Timely elections would help institutionalize the new federal structure. People’s confidence in federalism and republicanism will increase. The upcoming elections will further strengthen this political system.
How do you assess the first five years of local government?
I recently visited some areas of Madhes and talked to ordinary people. Frankly, they were not satisfied with the performance of the local representatives. Instead of focusing on utilities, local officials seem more interested in securing facilities and luxuries for themselves.
In terms of resources, local units are now better equipped than in the past. But this is not reflected in service delivery. There are many anomalies and problems in our society. Local governments have not been able to deal with it in a timely manner.
Most of them have not been able to meet the expectations of their local constituents. Some local bodies, however, were unable to work for a full five-year term, as the elections took place in several phases.
How to improve the performance of local authorities?
Local governments have been heavily politicized, which has affected their work. To solve this problem, we must elect non-political representatives. This will encourage independent candidates to enter politics. We can adopt a full proportional representation (PR) system in local government. In many countries, local bodies have non-political representatives.
Political representation in local governments has led to poor public services and an additional economic burden. If a complete PR system is adopted, we can solve these problems. The first-past-the-post (SMU) electoral system at the local level creates a lot of problems.
What is the possibility of voter fraud in local elections?
In the 2017 elections held under my leadership, there were no reports of vote rigging or fraud. There were obstructions created by the group led by Netra Bikram Chand, and some political parties also protested. But we still managed to hold the elections fairly.
But now there is fierce competition. The candidate selection process has become difficult. This is because elected officials enjoy good facilities. More young people are active in politics because they want to get positions in local bodies. There is therefore a strong possibility of violence in some voting centers. Candidates have already begun to influence voters and polling stations.
Elections have become costly. How to minimize electoral costs?
Candidates spend a lot of money on campaigns. To solve this problem, we need to remove the current FPTP system. If we adopt a proportional representation system, it will help reduce electoral costs. The electoral commission has a ceiling for campaign expenses. This means that the state itself encourages parties and their candidates to spend money on election campaigns. Better to remove the expenditure ceiling, useless for a campaign that does not last more than two weeks.
To bring about change, we need to educate the public. I have just returned from my village. There, political parties and potential candidates have already started organizing parties to appeal to voters. They also distribute “fuel money” to young people.
Another way to reduce election expenses is to remove the salary provision for local elected officials.