By NARAYAN MANANDHAR
There is a huge discrepancy between figures on voting age population (a) as disclosed by Population Census 2011 (15.4 million); (b) as reported to be registered with the Election Commission (12.4 million); and (c) the number of voters that have turned out in the last CA elections in 2008 (10.87 million). The discrepancy has triggered a debate, not just on the reliability of our data keeping system, but also on the very legitimacy of the up-coming November elections.
Let us first have a closer look into the facts.
Fact One: In CA elections 2008, there were 17.61 million total voters. Of this 10.87 million exercised their franchise. The voters’ turnout figure was 63.29 percent.
Fact Two: As per Kantipur Daily (21 July), Mr. D. B. Gurung, Election Commissioner, is reported saying that the Election Commission been able to register from 12.3 million to 12.4 million voters for up-coming elections. The exact figure is yet to arrive, as the Commission is still in the process of collecting data from the district.
Fact Three: The latest Population Census 2011 gives a figure of 15.41 million as eligible number of voters in Nepal, that is, total population of 18 years and above. It is not necessary that all of these voters will be registered with the Election Commission.
If one compares recent figure on voters’ registration (12.4 million) with the voters’ registration figure in 2008 (17.61 million), a total of 5.21 million Nepali can be found missing. One can argue that in 2008, there were no provision for producing citizenship certificates, and, moreover, the political parties could have helped to inflate voters’ registration. Actually, this can be verified by a gap in voters’ registration (17.61 million) and estimated voting age population (14.98 million) which comes to 2.63 million. Therefore, 17.61 million voters registration might not be a reliable figure. To some extent one can validate by looking at the actual turnout which was 63.29 percent only. With new census data, we are into an awkward situation. In 2008, we had more voters’ registration than estimated voting age population. Now, the situation is reverse. We have less number of voters’ registration than voting age population as disclosed by the population census 2011. The difference is slightly over 3 million. Since it is very difficult to refute population census data, which actually is, and the Election Commission along with some political party leaders are now engaged in justifying this missing figure of 3 million. Probably, we need economists, statisticians and demographers to justify this missing figure. However, let me first cite here possible political fallouts if we do not justify this discrepancy immediately.
First, with a total of 12.4 million voters’ registration, just to meet the total voters’ turnout of 10.87 million, we need at least a voters’ turnout of 88 percent. Given Nepal’s topographical condition and its track record on voters’ turnout, this is a near impossible dream. What will happen if substantially less number of voters’ turnout in November election than in 2008? The fallout will be: International community will question on the very legitimacy of the CA elections. With increased population, there must be a greater number of voters’ turnout in the November elections.
Second, akin to the method of triangulation, now, we will be having three sets of data files to compare and keep an eye on free, fair and fearless of the up-coming elections. First, we have the results of 2008 CA results, second, we have population census data and third, voters registration. It will be extremely difficult for international observers like Carter Centre to issue a pre-emptive statement on electoral fairness.
Third, with new data, not only up-coming elections are to be put in a big question mark but even performance of last CA elections will be increasingly questioned. To this effect, a blogger has already initiated a debate questioning the legitimacy of votes secured by no other person that Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai in Gorkha District. In the last elections he secured 46,272 votes, the total number of voters registered in his constituency is now 43,822. How do you explain this discrepancy? Shall we assume a dramatic fall in voting age population in Gorkha District? I assume UCPN (Maoist) Party will be having lots of sleepless nights.
Now, let us move on to how the Election Commission and some our political pundits are trying to justify this discrepancy. I was shocked to read Mr. Raghuji Pant from CPN-UML and also Mr. D. B. Gurung, Election Commissioner trying to justify by referring to estimated 3 million people gone abroad for foreign employment. The duo should know that the figure given in the Economic Survey, actually compiled from Department of Foreign Employment, is only a cumulative figure from 2001. Moreover, we have an absurd system of data collecting which only records the number of people going out of the country, that too by air and not by land, and there is no deduction of people who have returned home. Someone who is moving in and out of the country will be having multiple counts. There is no system of knowing exactly how many Nepali people currently reside abroad. Even if we agree on the missing figure as the number of people staying abroad, as the number is very huge, this raises question of voting rights of people staying abroad. Mr. Ram Chandra Paudel could be heard live on TV, churning latar pattar words, saying “um…those who have gone out of the country can return home for voting, if they have missed registering their names in the voters’ list,…um…what I can really say?”
Now, the Election Commission is cooking other arguments to justify the missing figure. First, they say the registration system, this time, with citizenship certificate is too strict. This argument only justifies the stand taken by Madhesibadi political parties do away with the requirements for citizenship certificates. Second, they are commenting on Nepali people’s habit of turning out at the last minute. To this, I request the Election Commission and our political masters to first have a look on the mirror. Third, they are saying that there is an prevalence of wide spread disillusionment among the populace with the politics and elections in the country so less number of people are turning out for registration. If this argument is valid then there will be even less number of voters coming to vote. And I would like to ask the government: Where is the chunabi mahul (conducive election environment) you are talking of? The last point only justifies Mr. Mohan Baidya faction who been busy calling boycotting the up-coming elections.