Following 10 years of internal armed conflict, in November 2006 the seven political parties and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists reached the “Comprehensive Peace Agreement”. An Interim Constitution replaced the 1990 Constitution and was formally approved by the Parliament in January 2007. An Interim Government was formed in March 2007 and Constituent Assembly elections were held in April 2008 that as a first step proclaimed the country as a Federal Republic and will draft a new constitution and establish the framework for the first post-conflict general elections and, possibly, for local government elections.
The Interim Constitution contains provisions (Part 14) for the establishment of the Election Commission of Nepal (ECN) and the Constituency Assembly Court, as well as provisions for the formation of the Constituent Assembly. The Election Commission - as the body legally entrusted by the Interim Constitution of Nepal with the mandate of preparing, administering and supervising the CA election - is generally perceived as an independent body and most electoral stakeholders recognise its integrity and competence.
In addition to having the crucial responsibility to organise and deliver a credible CA election, the ECN is also mandated by the Interim Constitution to organise the various elections at different levels that will follow once the current transitional phase in the Nepal’s peace and democratisation process has been completed. The latest deadline for promulgation of the new constitution is May 2012 and with possible elections to follow as early as the fall of 2012.
In preparation for these elections, ECN has undertaken an extensive reform agenda since 2008 to strengthen the electoral environment in Nepal. These reform measures include, among others, legislative reforms, establishment of an information and education center and the introduction of biometric voter registration. To further strengthen election management in Nepal, the ECN is currently exploring the use of electronic voting machines nationally which it hopes would enhance transparency and efficiency of the voting process.
The Electoral Support Project (ESP) is a technical assistance initiative, commencing upon the completion of the CA elections in 2008 and covering support to the upcoming set of elections after the promulgation of the new constitution. Without the immediate political and operational pressure for the ECN to deliver a specific electoral event and following the ‘electoral cycle approach’, the support provided by the Project in the inter-elections period (2008-2011) has had a strong emphasis on building a sustainable and enduring institutional and professional capacity within the ECN that could be easily and effectively re-employed in future elections. Through the provision of on-site technical advisory service and specialised electoral support, the primary objective of the Electoral Support Project is to significantly strengthen the professional capacities and institutional organisation of the ECN, particularly in view of its next major challenge, which is the preparation of the first legislative and, possibly, local elections to be conducted once the new Constitution of Nepal will be finalized and ratified in 2012.
As part of this support, the project is assisting ECN to study the use of new technologies in voting and vote counting, and determine the best practices in use of electronic voting machines in Nepal.
Purpose of the Study
ECN has recognized that technology is one of the tools that can be used to assist in efficient and accurate implementation of elections. Technology provides reliable and fast communication mechanisms, registration of voters, tabulation and publishing of results; technology can, for example, help reduce logistical arrangements needed for the complex operation that is elections, it can speed up the process of voting and vote counting and allow for last minute changes to ballots.
Similarly, the ECN expects the introduction of electronic voting machines to improve the way elections are conducted, speeding up the process and introducing transparency. Using Indian made EVMs, ECN piloted the use of these technologies in 2008 in one constituency election in Kathmandu and thereafter in by-elections six constituencies across the country in the hill and Tarai. The experience of ECN in the use of these machines has been positive thus far and it has garnered growing support from society. Support in the use of EVMs has been expressed by political parties, civil society, media and the administration as well.
Building on this experience and the growing interest from the public, ECN is seeking to expand the use of EVMs nationally. It is within this context that ESP is supporting ECN to undertake a study to identify global and regional best practices in the use of EVMs. The study is expected to serve ECN, political parties, civil society, GON and the international community.