KATHMANDU – The government, on March 21, issued a terse statement through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressing reservation to the ‘Final Report on the House of Representatives and Provincial Assembly Elections’ which the European Union’s Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Nepal had released a day before.
“Some of the recommendations and comments of the Report not only undermine the successful holding of smooth, peaceful and impartial elections but also go against the scope and norms of international election observation. This violates the Election Code of Conduct for International Observers of the Election Commission of Nepal as well as the provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Government of Nepal and the European Union before the elections,” a press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated.
As it appears, the government is annoyed by especially the recommendation which calls for reviewing the impact of the quota system on the ethnic composition of the House of Representatives and provincial assemblies and ensuring that measures of affirmative action apply only to groups that are the subject of negative discrimination.
This particular recommendation referring to the electoral system states: “In a constitutionally mandated effort to promote gender and social inclusion, is designed, in part, on the basis of proportional inclusion. The quotas which applied to the PR elections for the House of Representatives provided (50%) for women, Dalit (13.8%), Adivasi Janajati (28.7%), Khas Arya (31.2%), Madhesi (15.3%), Tharu (6.6%) and Muslim (4.4%). The Provincial Assemblies PR Directive set out detailed quotas for each of the seven provincial assemblies, determined by the demographic composition of the particular provinces. The design of the PR quota system, which also includes well-represented social groups, such as the Khas Arya, among the groups for inclusion, is arguably in contravention of international standards on equality, as affirmative action measures are foreseen only as a means to promote equality.”
EU EOM’s 10 priority recommendations
The EU EOM Report, in all, makes 29 recommendations for consideration, but suggests priority attention be given to these 10 recommendations: review the impact of the quota system on the ethnic composition of the House of Representatives and provincial assemblies and ensure that measures of affirmative action apply only to groups that are the subject of negative discrimination; enhance the transparency of the ECN by regular consultations with stakeholders, and the timely publication of all information of public interest; launch extensive voter education sufficiently in advance of elections, in all languages used in Nepal; review first-past-the-post constituency boundaries to ensure more equal suffrage; relax voter registration transfer requirements so people living in rented accommodation and informal settlements can transfer their voter registration; enforce the law in order to stop vote-buying; produce a less restrictive Code of Conduct, including provisions for the allocation of free airtime to political parties/candidates in the public media; introduce administrative procedures to accord priority to election-related cases filed with the Supreme Court; enhance the transparency of the results process by the swift publication of polling centre turnout data and constituency counting tables, as well as by distribution of copies of the constituency counting tables to party and candidate agents; and introduce meaningful reconciliation procedures in polling and counting directives.
The EU EOM was present in Nepal between 25 October 2017 and 3 January 2018, following invitations from the Government of Nepal and the ECN. In total, the mission deployed over 100 observers from all 28 EU member states, as well as Norway and Switzerland. 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 Report states.
In the view of the government, some of these recommendations and comments are a direct challenge to the provisions of the Constitution of Nepal which was promulgated, in line with the inclusive policy reflective of Nepali social structure, by the sovereign decision of Nepali people.
“It is unfortunate that the report has made unwarranted comments about political issues that have already been settled. The Government of Nepal calls upon all the concerned to refrain from making such uncalled-for comments,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in its press release commenting on the EU EOM’s Report.
EC rejects EU election observation report
Following suit, the Election Commission also rejected the Report saying – “The EU report and its press statement are misleading, baseless and against the international election observation code of conduct, and hence the EC rejects it completely.”
The Commission has also said that the report submitted by the EU EOM was a serious violation of the memorandum of understanding it reached with the Commission on last October 24, including of the point no. 12 of the election observation code of conduct attached to the MoU.
Press Council Nepal too condemns report
Meanwhile, the Press Council Nepal too was critical of the EU EOM report, saying that the Report made a surfacial comment without taking into account the formation process, scope of work and role of the Council and making an objective analysis of its jurisdiction.
“Several wrong, misleading and baseless specific references have been made in the EU EOM report in the context of the Council itself, and the EU report in itself has created a crisis of credibility in the context of the encouraging participation of the people of all classes and sections towards institutionalizing the federal democratic republic,” Press Council Nepal said in a statement.
Former MP’s Forum slams report
Former MP’s Forum Nepal has also said its serious attention was drawn towards the EU EOM Report. Issuing a press release on March 23, the Forum termed the Report as misleading, inaccurate and against the code of conduct. It said the recommendation for removing the reservation quota for the Khas Arya community was in violation of the international election observation code of conduct and made going beyond the terms of reference for election observation.
“This Report which is against the spirit of the Constitution of Nepal written by the sovereign Nepali people interferes in our internal affairs,” the Forum stated. The word ‘reservation quota’ has not been mentioned anywhere in the constitution; instead it mentions ‘proportional inclusive representation’.
Indeed, the particular recommendation by the EU on removing the Khas Arya from the reservation quota system is unwarranted. An impression is being created that the Khas Arya are well-represented in all bodies of the state. This is far from the country’s social reality. This argument is oblivious of the fact that not all Khas Arya have equal representation in the state apparatus. By making this uncalled-for recommendation on a constitutional provision, the EU is seen as trying to interfere in Nepal’s internal affairs.