Holding elections with ‘outside’ assistance

Nepal is getting ready for another election. After dissolution of the constituent assembly a year ago, it will be the country’s second attempt in five years at electing representatives who would hopefully draft the new constitution.

The 2008 elections, the first after the civil war, promised to usher in a New Nepal. There were visible changes – abolition of monarchy and the country becoming a republic – but the main task of promulgating a new constitution remained incomplete.

After months of squabbling, the parties handed over the reins of power to an interim government headed by the country’s chief justice with the sole objective of conducting polls to elect another constituent assembly.

Three months after taking charge last week, November 19 was declared as the date of election. The announcement has been welcomed by many countries including India with assurances of support.

There’s still a possibility that polling may not be held on the said date as 33 parties including the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, a breakaway faction of Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), have decided to boycott and even disrupt the polls. But that’s another matter.

Like in 2008, Nepal would require logistical and financial support from its neighbours India and China and other donor countries to conduct the polls in an efficient manner.

Reports say the election commission and the foreign and finance ministries have prepared a list of 67 items that Nepal would need from other countries for the election.

A formal request has already been sent to New Delhi to provide 500 vehicles in grant – like it did during the previous polls. Electronic voting machines and ballot boxes are other items sought from the southern neighbour.

Talks are underway with other countries and lists are being prepared on the items that can be sought as assistance. But offers of financial aid have already started pouring in.

On Monday, UK announced additional assistance of £4 million to the Nepal Peace Trust Fund and £2 million more to ensure women’s participation, election observation and training for journalists.

This would take UK’s support to the election to a total of £14.5 million. Switzerland, Denmark and Finland have also assured additional sums to aid the election process.

Similar announcements of support are expected in coming days from other countries like Germany, France, US, Japan and the European Union. The final sum, both in terms of logistics and financial aid, is expected to be substantial.

This is where a problem could arise. A report in The Himalayan Times last month stated that the government has no idea of how much money came in as foreign assistance during the 2008 polls and how much of it was spent.

The government needs to ensure that this doesn’t get repeated again and the money and logistics provided by foreign donors gets utilised properly for conduct of free and fair polls.

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