The Election Commission (EC) of Nepal has developed the Integrated Election Law in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision. The proposed law includes a provision to update the list of voters by including information about Nepali citizens residing abroad and granting them the right to vote through diplomatic missions. It also introduces measures to enhance women’s representation, disqualify candidates who repeatedly lose elections, and introduce the “no vote” option. While experts appreciate the progressive nature of the law, they raise concerns about potential loopholes. On top of this, there is certainly the question of the likelihood of the bill being passed since it seems to disadvantage a lot of current political powerhouses.

According to the proposed draft, Nepali citizens living in foreign countries will be permitted to vote in the proportional electoral system for the House of Representatives (HoR) election. This will be made possible through the assistance of Nepal’s diplomatic missions in those countries. The EC intends to submit the draft to the Ministry of Home Affairs for further consideration. The draft was formulated by incorporating feedback from the National Concerns and Coordination Committee of the National Assembly and the women’s wings of various political parties.

One notable proposal in the draft is that a candidate who loses an election for the Federal Parliament, Provincial Assembly, or local level would be disqualified from running in subsequent elections until the term of the respective post has expired. However, this provision does not apply to by-elections for the same constituency and level.

The commission has proposed a provision that gives voters a right to reject any candidate and for that, a ‘NOTA’ sign should be included in the ballot paper. Additionally, candidates who have been elected twice through the proportional electoral system in the HoR and Provincial Assembly would be ineligible to run for the third time under the same system. Furthermore, it is suggested that women’s representation should account for at least 33 percent in the first-past-the-post electoral system for the House of Representatives, Provincial Assembly, and local-level elections.

As per the EC’s proposal, candidates participating in the elections must disclose their own property details as well as those of their family members.

Sanjay Sharma – Researcher, and writer on Nepal’s socio-politics – believes the proposed Law by the EC is progressive given the patriarchal and status-quo nature of Nepali politicians and bureaucrats. “If the law is passed by the parliament, and that is a huge IF, this will create better democratic practices in Nepal as this law aims to address many pertaining issues related to women, the diaspora, youth, etc.”

According to Sharma, “The “no vote” policy itself gives a much better say to the voters giving them agency and voice.”

Jay Nishant, Chairman of the Asian Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs, sheds some light on precautionary aspects of the drafted law. “While the “no vote” provision will bring more opportunities in the hands of the voters in electing good candidates, it will make the election process more expensive. To figure out whether it is viable in Nepal, it needs to be tested across the country.” Including the provision of requiring candidates to disclose family and personal property details, he questions the readiness of the Commission to bear the extra responsibility and financial burden that would come with their implementation.

Nishant suggests that a better solution may be to only make the winners disclose their family and personal property details. “Taking this issue further, ministers are already required to disclose their and their family’s financial and property details, however, this information is not publically available. To make the process more transparent, they should disclose this information publically to ensure that their influence does not result in a lack of action when red flags arise. Additionally, they should be required to disclose this information every year to mitigate opportunities for misuse of power for financial gain.”

According to Meena Bhatta from the Department of Conflict, Peace and Development Studies at Tribhuvan University, “The draft bill has introduced some important provisions in the areas for improvement in the current electoral design and advancement of women’s political representation and this has a strategic importance.” The Election Management and Operations Bill proposes a provision that makes it mandatory for the political parties to field at least 33 percent of women candidates under the first-past-the-post electoral systems.

“This provision is (also) expected to ensure women’s participation in the decision-making process at the local level of government,” She says. “Currently, Nepal has 41 percent representation of women at the local level, however, their participation in the decision-making process has remained challenging.”

“In addition to this to address the voting rights of Nepalese living abroad, the Election Commission has also proposed a provision to allow those living abroad to vote for the PR category of the House of Representatives via diplomatic missions. Voting from abroad has long remained an issue of discussion and also a much-awaited provision in Nepal’s electoral design and if this provision is passed it would enable hundreds of thousands of Nepalis to exercise their franchise.”

Given that the parliament passes the law, there could still be room for political parties to play around and not abide by the essence of the law by misinterpreting the legal nuances and finding loopholes.

Sharma states, “While the major political parties are controlled by aged male politicians, I wonder why would they pass the law in the first place. I also believe that the law could have been more progressive in the case of marginalized groups. There still persists a fear in me that the politicians would only select token candidates to face-save and will not abide by the larger democratic values of justice, inclusion, and representation.”

The drafted law is a positive step and will help improve elections if passed and implemented properly. By doing so, Nepal can pave the way for a more inclusive, representative, and accountable electoral system, fostering a stronger democracy for its citizens.