Govt forms 22 more local units in Tarai districts

Bhadra Sharma & Gyan P Neupane (KATHMANDU, May 23): Breaching the election code of conduct, the government on Monday created an additional 22 local units in the southern plains of the country in what it said was an effort to bring all political forces on board the election process. 

A cabinet meeting held at Baluwatar decided to increase the number of local units and upgrade some sub-metropolitan cities to metropolitan cities. According to government spokesperson Surendra Bahadur Karki, Birgunj and Bitratnagar Sub-metropolitan Cities are being upgraded to metropolitan cities.  Additionally, 24 rural municipalities are being upgraded to municipalities. 

EC says it will now be 'quite difficult' to conduct second round local polls on June 14 

Apart from upgrading the local units, the government has increased three local units each in Nawalparasi, Rupandehi, Sarlahi and Kapilvastu districts and two local units each in Sunsari and Rautahat districts.  One new local unit each was created in Saptari, Parsa, Bara, Dhanusha, Kailali and Banke.

The number of local units was increased based on the recommendations of a committee led by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Federal Affairs and Local Development Minister Bijayakumar Gachchhadar.  

The local units have been increased at a time when the Election Commission is all set to conduct the second round of local elections as scheduled on June 14. Increasing the number of local units, according to experts, is tantamount to violation of the constitution, the election code of conduct and established national and international practices.

Previously, the government had decided to conduct local elections in 744 local units, following the recommendations of the Local Level Restructuring Commission. Going against its own decision, the government has now increased the local units immediately after the first round local elections. 

The decision to increase local units has faced criticism from all sides including the Election Commission and federalism experts. The experts say the increase in the local units between elections is blatant violation of the election code of conduct and existing laws. The code of conduct bars the government from appointing or transferring civil servants and introducing new programs once the poll date is announced.  Changing the number of electoral constituencies or gerrymandering is considered a violation of electoral principles. 

"The constitution has not granted any  powers to the government to increase the number of local units on its own. Also, the government has not promulgated any law to this effect. That's why increasing the number of local units between two elections is against the constitution," said Local Level Restructuring Commission chief Balananda Poudel, who had fixed the number of local units. 

Stating that the existing constitution and laws do not even allow the government to change  the borders of a single ward one year before  scheduled elections, Poudel said the move could be quashed if anyone challenges it in court.  "This ridicules the essence of federalism," said Poudel. 

The Election Commission is also miffed with the government's  decision. Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav said it will be 'quite difficult' to conduct the second round of elections after the increment in local units. "It will be quite difficult to hold second round local elections as scheduled. We will come up with our position once they inform us formally," said CEC Yadav. 

CEC Yadav said the election body needs to re-print almost all the election materials including voter rolls and voter IDs  once the number of local units is increased. The EC also needs to change the polling stations and deployment of officers and conduct training for new officers. 

Election experts say the government move was aimed at influencing the upcoming elections and it should be rejected if  elections are to be conducted as scheduled. "Increasing the number of local units between  elections is against national and international electoral practices. I would urge the EC to reject such a proposal," said former chief election commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety.

First appeared in Republica


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