Pre-Election Report #2: From Carter Center
The four-point report, released less than a week ahead of Jimmy Carter's Nepal visit, says the new political agreement on new elections dates is encouraging, but there is much more work left to be accomplished.
There is a need of focus on elections prepareations, and the need to continue substantative dialogue with marginalized groups, develop and implement a substantive security plan, and encourage local electoral participation, says the second pre-election report by Carter Center’s Nepal mission.
The following is the text of the report, released on the eve of the former US president Jimmy Carter's visit to Nepal. Carter is scheduled to meet PM Girija Prasad Koirala, other top political leaders, election officials and the top Maoist leaders. In fact, he will be the first most prominent American to meet the former guerrillas. Carter's three-day trip will begin June 13.
1. Sustain focus on electoral preparations
The Carter Center is encouraged by the recent Eight Party agreement regarding a late November/early December timeframe for the constituent assembly election as well as the resumption of business in the interim legislature-parliament. Furthermore, the June 7 registration of a second bill to amend the interim constitution and discussions in the state affairs commission on the constituent assembly electoral system indicate that the political deadlock of the past several months is potentially coming to an end.
While the Center is heartened by this resumption of electoral activity, concerns remain about the multiple outstanding issues that need to be addressed in an increasingly short time frame in order to facilitate a winter election. In order to ensure that the electoral legislation is widely accepted and facilitates progress in the electoral process, there is a critical need for consultation and buy-in from marginalized groups on the mechanism for inclusivity and the delimitation of new electoral constituencies. Following such agreement, the Center hopes that electoral legislation will be passed promptly and a new election date declared. The 110 day threshold the election commission has requested will expire in early August and the decision of a date will enable the Commission to best plan its efforts and reaffirm the Nepali public’s faith that an election is forthcoming.
As the political leadership debates various electoral issues, the Center reiterates its recommendation to reconsider the issue of ranked candidate lists in the proportional representation system. The system presently being discussed would allow parties to give elected seats to any candidate within their proportional representation candidate list after the election result has been declared, rather than allocating the seats starting from an already ranked candidate list. The former system, if adopted, would remove the ability of voters to know who they are likely to elect from a given party and would provide political parties with disproportionate control over their candidates. As both systems will allow for quotas for marginalized groups presently being discussed to be preserved, the Center encourages the political leadership to select the process which will be most transparent for voters.
The Center hopes that the Eight Party Alliance’s recent initiatives indicate recognition that conducting the constituent assembly election is a shared responsibility. A collective and serious plan to deal with the pressing issues currently facing the country is necessary as is the announcement of a new election date. Given the intended transitional nature of the present government and the challenging political situation, commitment and cooperation by key stakeholders is essential in order to ensure continued progress.
The Center encourages the government of Nepal to focus on the common purpose of creating a conducive environment for the constituent assembly election, including action on all outstanding electoral legislation and decisions including the new election date following widespread consultation and buy-in from marginalized groups.
2. Continue substantive dialogue with marginalized groups
The Carter Center commends the government for its stated commitment to resolving issues of concern to marginalized groups through peaceful dialogue. The Center further notes the positive steps taken by Minister Ram Chandra Poudel and the government’s talks teams to initiate such dialogue with madhesis, women, and janajatis. The Center encourages the government to initiate similar talks with dalit representatives, as they too represent a marginalized group that should be specifically targeted for inclusion. Reports from the June 1 negotiation session between the government and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) indicate that thus far the talks are going well, and it is hoped that this trend will continue and be repeated with other groups. Initiation of negotiations is a promising step. However, there remains significant work necessary to resolve the challenging issues that are being discussed. It is possible that the issue of marginalized groups’ electoral system demands may need to be separated from the wider package of concerns raised by these groups in order to allow both the electoral and the negotiation processes to proceed in parallel.
The Center notes the importance of public recognition by high-level government actors that the concerns of marginalized groups are legitimate and merit attention. It is hoped that not only at the central level but also at the district and village level significant effort will be made to educate and include marginalized communities in the constituent assembly process. Finally, the Center recognizes the commitment of individual district election officers who have undertaken activities to address issues of inclusion – such as mapping out linguistic regions within their district – to facilitate the implementation of effective voter education efforts, and supports the broader continuation of such activity.
The Center encourages the government to continue and strengthen its effort towards the swift resolution of key relevant issues regarding madhesis, janajatis, women, dalits, and other marginalized groups.
3. Develop and implement a comprehensive and effective public security plan
The Carter Center remains worried about the poor security environment in the country. The Center’s LTOs continue to receive reports of violence, vandalism, intimidation, and harassment by various groups. Both factions of the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha continue to conduct violent and unlawful activities, as do other Terai-based groups, thus severely limiting activity of both Nepali citizens and government officials. Additionally, Maoist cadres and the Maoist-affiliated Young Communist League (YCL) persist with activities that violate the May 2006 Code of Conduct. Though Maoist and YCL cadres are also involved in good works around the country, their continued aggressive behavior negatively affects the ongoing transition process. Moreover, despite repeated encouraging public statements by the Maoists at the central level about the return of property and displaced people and the re-establishment of police posts, the Center has found there are still significant areas of the country in which these processes are not moving forward or have in fact begun to backtrack. Finally, increased general criminality and lawlessness are also prevalent and add to the weak security environment.
Maintaining public security in the midst of a conflict transformation process is not a simple task and Nepal’s security environment must be viewed within this broader context. However, the safety of the populace is critical to the wider credibility of the ongoing peace process. All parties must jointly ensure that previous agreements including the Code of Conduct and agreed upon mechanisms for property return and re-establishment of police posts are fully implemented. Reports from Carter Center observers indicate that the Nepal police still lack sufficient capacity and morale, and this should be addressed in any future security plan. Additionally, the YCL should be encouraged to continue its good works and positive collaboration with the state security structure but needs to first eliminate all negative activity in order to demonstrate to the people of Nepal its desire to contribute positively to the development of the county.
The Center reiterates the need for all stakeholders to come together to develop and implement a comprehensive and effective public security plan in order to ensure a secure environment for the constituent assembly election.
4. Encourage political and electoral activity at the local level
At present, Carter Center observers note a striking absence of political and electoral activity at the local level. Repeatedly, across all districts and in organizations ranging from political parties to government offices to civil society groups, Center observers are told that local organizations are “waiting for instructions from the central level.” While central coordination is clearly necessary in order ensure efforts are effective, there are a large number of active supporters whose energy is not being utilized. Devolving some degree of authority to local level actors and encouraging them to initiate planning and outreach on any number of topics - including civic education – can only serve to benefit these organizations as well as the Nepali people.
The Carter Center notes the importance of local level participation in the political and electoral process and supports any activities that expand the opportunities for grassroots activism and outreach.
Nepal is in the midst of a challenging transition process and The Carter Center heartily commends all key stakeholders as well as the people of Nepal for the progress that has been achieved thus far. The Center reiterates its view that there is an urgent need for joint action towards a set of common goals: sustaining focus on electoral preparations and passing critical legislation, continuing substantive dialogue with marginalized groups, implementing an effective public security plan, and encouraging political and electoral activity at the local level. There is a serious amount of work for Nepali leadership to do in a short time if constituent assembly elections are truly to take place in November. The Center believes that the above recommendations will help serve to consolidate the gains of the peace process and facilitate the conducting of a credible constituent assembly election in the agreed timeframe.
The Center offers the above observations and recommendations in the spirit of cooperation and respect, and with the hope that they will provide useful discussion points for future action. The Center wishes to thank the Nepali officials, political party members, civic activists, and citizens, as well as representatives of the international community who have generously offered their time and energy to facilitate the Center’s efforts to observe the constituent assembly election process.
A little background on CC's Nepal mission
The report presents the observations and continued findings of the Carter Center’s international election observation mission in Nepal. In March 2007, the mission deployed 13 long-term observers (LTOs) representing nine different nationalities throughout Nepal to assess the political and electoral environment in the period leading up to the constituent assembly election. The Center’s observers have now visited more than 70 of Nepal’s 75 districts, reaching not only to district headquarters but also to the village level.
The observations and recommendations below build upon the Carter Center’s April 16 pre-election statement and are based on information gathered by the Center’s headquarters staff and LTOs in meetings with electoral authorities, government officials, political party and civil society leaders, security officials, Nepali citizens, and representatives of the international community.
The Carter Center conducts election observation activities in a nonpartisan, professional manner in accordance with applicable Nepali law and international standards for election observation as set forth in the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation. The Center coordinates closely with other international and domestic observer delegations and publishes statements of its findings and recommendations on its web site: www.cartercenter.org. The goal of the Center’s mission in Nepal is to demonstrate international support for and provide an independent assessment of the constituent assembly election process. The Center hopes that its activity will help ensure a credible process that is accepted by the people of Nepal and which serves to consolidate the gains of the ongoing peace process.
Posted by Editor on June 8, 2007 9:24 AM