Election Monitoring, Voter Education, and INSEC

Bijay Raj Gautam
Executive Director

The role of election observers is crucial in ensuring impartial elections. Election observation serves as a means to assess the legitimacy and credibility of the electoral process. It is essential for conducting elections in a fair, independent, and fear-free environment. Through election observation, one can determine whether the public has been able to exercise their right to vote without any coercion or manipulation. As it identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the electoral process, election observation is often regarded as the third eye of the state.

Voting in elections is a sovereign and fundamental right of the people. Only when elections are fair, credible, dignified, and devoid of malpractices can the public select the right representatives. Impartial elections are essential not only for the strengthening and development of the democratic system but also for underscoring the importance of periodic elections as the very heart of democracy.

In past elections, some observers were accused of favoring some party candidates and acting contrary to their professional values and principles. Regardless of their personal beliefs or support for any party or ideology, observers must never let these biases influence their work. Observers cannot be deemed professional unless they perform their duties impartially. Integrity and professionalism are the true identity of an observer.

Elections are the essence, lifeblood, and core of democracy. If they are not conducted independently, peacefully, and free from malpractices, the very spirit of democracy is compromised. Therefore, observers must fulfill their duties with the utmost integrity. The significance of elections is upheld only when the results are universally accepted and recognized both nationally and internationally, Thus, election observation is of upmost importance.
INSEC has been observing elections since 1991 A.D. As requested by the Election Commission, INSEC provides orientation to the observers who have been authorized by the commission.

To ensure effective supervision, observer who have received permits from the Election Commission oversee pre-election, election day, and post-election activities. In addition, INSEC traveled to various districts to identify local-level problems and issues. Meetings were held with locals along with security agencies and political parties’ representatives to discuss election security management and preparations. Radio jingles were prepared and played through local radio stations to effectively spread voter education. The jingles, prepared in Nepali language, included knowledge of voter education, voting and highlighted importance of periodic election. Informative posters centering election and voter education were also distributed in various part of the country. Based on past experience and capabilities, INSEC launched a civic campaign for clean elections to ensure that elections are conducted in a fair, impartial, and fear-free environment. The observation effort aimed to encourage political parties, candidates, affiliated organizations, government offices, associations, and media personnel to adhere to the election code of conduct. The objectives of election observation were as follows:

To assist in conducting clean and fair elections.
To help ensure elections are held in a fear-free environment.
To support the Election Commission’s voter education programs.
The Election Commission issued a code of conduct based on the authority granted by Article 22 of the Election Commission Act, 2017. This code aims to regulate the behavior of all stakeholders in elections, ensuring that the elections are conducted in a clean, free, fair, transparent, and reliable manner. However, violations of the code of conduct still occurred during the election. It is a fact that the political parties are responsible for following the code of conduct, while the Election Commission is responsible for ensuring its implementation. During the first phase of the election ,several news articles about code of conduct violations were published. Similarly, the monitoring revealed some incidents of political parties and candidates violating the code of conduct. The code of conduct for the election states that symbolic materials for advertising the party, such as stickers, logos, bags, etc., should not be used, sold, or displayed, but this provision was misused the most. In addition, t-shirts and caps were used more in the door-to-door campaigns of the political parties. The law provides the election commission with the authority to punish violations of the code of conduct. However, implementation has remained weak. Despite the provision to file complaints against activities that violate the code of conduct, the commission appears to be indifferent in the process of investigation and taking action. The implementation of the code of conduct will be effective if the commission is strong. Additionally, this will create an environment in which future elections will be held in a fair manner and will also increase the credibility of the elections. Furthermore, political parties should honestly follow the code of conduct. This honesty from the government and political parties is what makes elections fair.
Facts Observed During Monitoring
During the monitoring, people with disabilities were found to face problems in voting as voting stations were not disabled-friendly. The voting process took a considerable amount of time, causing inconvenience to the voters because the space available for voting was small. Similarly, Due to the voting stations not being made weather-friendly, voters had to suffer disruptions in the voting process.
On the positive side, the peace and security situation was strong this time, unlike in previous elections. Voters in rural areas felt secure and participated in voting without fear. Likewise despite the attempts to influence the vote in areas where certain parties had strong influence, these efforts failed due to the strong presence of the security situation. Significant and enthusiastic participation of voters was seen in remote and rural areas than in urban areas. People were confused about the voting process, and voter education was found to be ineffective. Having said that, the election preparations made by the Election Commission were found to be reliable. The Commission was found to be capable of managing voting stations, ballot boxes, ballot papers, staff, volunteers and security agencies. The collection and transportation of ballot boxes were efficient. Although some parties raised concerns about fraud in counting and transportation, no such issues were found during monitoring. Media personnel and the monitoring teams had easy access to voting stations and counting places. Furthermore, while the efforts of the Election Commission were largely effective, several issues were seen in various districts on the day of the election. These included problems with obtaining vehicle passes, interactions with the monitories, distribution of voters’ ID cards, and management of voting stations.
The election marks a significant milestone in Nepal’s journey toward institutional development and the strengthening of democracy. The peaceful conduct of the election has infused the people with fresh enthusiasm and energy, fostering a renewed sense of optimism. The Constitution of Nepal 2015 states that the sovereignty/supreme political power of the state is vested in the citizen of Nepal, periodical elections can be considered as an indispensable element of Nepali democracy. The experts in the field of democracy and elections have proposed a compelling notion that democracy epitomizes governance by the people, for the people, and of the people. Within this framework, periodic elections emerge as the cornerstone, ensuring the manifestation of the collective will of the populace. In simple language, the citizens are the supreme power of the state, the country should be governed by representatives chosen by them according to their wishes. Such elections should be held every four to five years to gather fresh opinions from the people, embodying the essence of true democracy: governing the country based on the will of its citizens. However, the election system can be in direct or indirect forms depending on the method of voting and representation. In democracy, elections solely establish which party or group constitutes the majority and minority within the legal and constitutional framework. If there are no elections, the government there will be not democratic but autocratic in which the people have no participation. In elections, politicians, leaders, activists, and people compete to test their strength and influence, resulting in weaker parties, leadership, and communities being consistently defeated due to their limited power and influence. This lead them to oppose the election on various unreal pretexts and even adopt the path of boycotting the election. Therefore, periodic elections also remain as a strong motivating factor for everyone. The ruling class is always afraid and terrified of the citizens. Therefore, periodic elections every four/five years will force them to be accountable and responsible to the people and pressure them to do development works for the people. In this process, they are forced to put aside their vested interests and act for the people. Periodic elections are also an effective, legal, practical and powerful means of expressing public will. The winning party/candidate will act and make public policy for them according to the will of the people. In a democracy, people are given the right to vote. People’s rights will be violated if periodic elections are not held. A country without elections actually becomes an autocratic regime. Democracy must always uphold the people’s right to choose their candidates, while also recognizing the importance of respecting the rights of the minority. Elections are an important test of a ruler’s legitimacy. It is the cornerstone of democracy. Therefore, elections should always be fair, transparent and clean.