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Carter Center Observers Note Largely Peaceful By-Election Day, Progress in Electoral Conduct, Some Areas for Improvement

Nepal Constituent Assembly By-Election Statement by The Carter Center


In Atlanta: Deborah Hakes, +1 404 420 5124
In Kathmandu: Sarah Levit-Shore, +977 1 444 5055/1446

The Carter Center congratulates the people of Nepal, the election commission, and the political parties for a generally peaceful and orderly by-election process. Following an invitation from the Election Commission of Nepal, The Carter Center deployed four teams of short-term observers to Morang, Dhanusha, Kaski, and Kanchanpur from April 9-11 to conduct a small scale assessment of Nepal's April 10, 2009, Constituent Assembly by-elections. Carter Center teams observed in 46 polling centers in five out of six constituencies on election day, and coordinated closely with other international and domestic observer groups.

Because of the small size and limited scope of its presence, the Carter Center's activities do not constitute a comprehensive observation effort. Instead, the mission focused on an assessment of a limited number of issues in the areas in which teams were deployed, including the election day environment; the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) including public confidence, ease of use, voter understanding of the process, and technical problems; the use of citizenship cards as mandatory voter identification; electoral irregularities; and the counting process. The Center is not able to draw conclusions or issue public judgments about the overall electoral process because the mission did not observe the pre-election environment; campaigning; code of conduct violations; voter education and awareness; and the auditing, storage, and chain of custody of the EVMs.

Key Findings of Limited International Election Observation Mission

  • Overall, the majority of Nepali voters participated in a calm and peaceful by-election on April 10 in which they were able to freely exercise their democratic rights.
  • Observer reports indicate that for the most part the election was well executed with election staff generally able to dispatch their duties appropriately. Additionally, in all polling centers observed there was a heavy police presence, and police actively assisted in providing security as and when needed.
  • The introduction of EVMs was largely successful but faced technical problems in some constituencies, with the greatest number occurring in Kaski and Dhanusha. The majority of these seemed to be battery-related and could potentially be solved by providing an increased number of back-up batteries at the local level. Overall, voters seemed to find the instructions for casting a ballot clear and had confidence in the EVMs. In only a minority of polling centers observed did voters have difficulty understanding how to cast their ballot. In general, voters were positive about the election commission's voter education efforts.
  • The introduction of citizenship cards as mandatory voter identification was a marked improvement over the April 10, 2008 voter identification process, and was strictly enforced by polling staff at all polling centers visited by observers. Carter Center observers noted that only in a small minority of cases were eligible voters potentially turned away due to lack of identification. However, discrepancies between the names listed on the citizenship cards and on the voter list did cause some problems and slowed the polling process overall. Additionally, though these problems were limited in number they appeared to cause disproportionate concern amongst voters.
  • Reports of directly observed electoral irregularities came only from Dhanusha, and only in very limited instances. The Carter Center observer team in Dhanusha-5 reported electoral irregularities at a polling center visited in Mithileswor Mauwahi including inter-party tension creating a non-conducive environment outside the polling center, multiple voting, perceived underage voting, and seemingly unnecessary assisted voting. Though these appeared to be isolated incidents and not part of a larger pattern, the election commission should take care to ensure that all complaints are addressed properly. Additionally, the commission should fully investigate all complaints to determine the degree of irregularities and avoid relying too heavily on polling officers' recommendations alone.
  • In multiple areas, political parties appeared to maintain good relations and work well together throughout the election day, including holding all-party meetings on an as needed basis to generate consensus, resolve difficult issues, and defuse tensions.
  • The counting process went smoothly overall but was not without areas for improvement, mainly related to a need for greater specificity regarding instructions for the counting procedures. Somewhat different procedures were followed in each constituency and at times these were inefficient and unnecessarily slowed the process.

Other minor electoral issues included: the drying out of ink in multiple polling centers in Morang (which could be resolved by providing extra ink pens at the local level), insufficient protections for the secrecy of the voting booth in multiple centers in Kaski (which could be resolved by creating a better barrier such as a curtain around the booth itself), and polling center premises at times exposing voters to direct sun for long periods (which could be resolved by erecting small areas of shade by the polling center). Voters could also have benefited from more clearly identified election staff with IDs better differentiated according to position, as well as photo IDs for all staff. Finally, observers stated that, similar to the April 10, 2008, election, party volunteers stationed outside the polling centers once again played an overly involved role in the election process, particularly as they were almost always the first to interact with voters approaching the polling center. This gave the volunteers the ability to potentially turn eligible voters away without the knowledge of the election commission.


The Carter Center's small scale assessment of the by-elections is a continuation of the Center's long-term observation of the overall Constituent Assembly electoral process. The Center was originally invited to observe the CA election process by the election commission, the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML, and the CPN-M, and was welcomed by all major political parties. The Center deployed 13 long-term international observers from March 2007 through May 2008 and made multiple public statements throughout the electoral process, particularly in regards to electoral preparations, the poor security environment, and inclusion of marginalized groups. The Center then deployed a short-term observation delegation of more than 60 international observers for the CA election itself, co-led by Carter Center founder and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, and former Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai.

Overall the Center found that the period prior to the April 10, 2008, CA election was characterized by vigorous campaigning but marred by intermittent violence, intimidation, and limited freedom of movement, as well as by violations of the code of conduct, which increased in the weeks immediately before the election. However, on April 10, 2008, the atmosphere was generally calm, orderly, and festive with only isolated instances of violence and electoral irregularities. The election results were accepted by the people of Nepal and by all major party leaders immediately following the election.

In its final report on the electoral process, The Carter Center issued ten key recommendations including:

  • Create a more inclusive and accurate voter list;
  • Mandate voter identification with a voter ID card and end involvement of party volunteers in the voter identification process;
  • Improve the security environment, rule of law, and freedom of movement;
  • Increase local election staff capacity and ensure inclusivity of marginalized groups;
  • Strengthen the complaints and appeals process and enforce the code of conduct;
  • Simplify the electoral legal framework, discard the postelection candidate selection system, and strengthen the vote count;
  • Increase substantive political party outreach to voters and improve internal party democracy, decentralization, and inclusivity;
  • Expand voter and civic education efforts with greater election commission oversight;
  • Increase training for domestic observers;
  • Implement previous commitments made during the peace process and ensure genuinely inclusive political participation.

Changes in the Election Procedures

The Carter Center is pleased to note that the election commission has implemented several new procedures, some of which take into account the feedback it received from international and domestic observer organizations following the April 10, 2008 CA election. Specific changes in the April 10, 2009 by-elections included:

  • Updating the voter list in all six constituencies where by-elections were conducted
  • Implementing a mandatory voter identification requirement using citizenship cards as voter ID
  • Increasing the use of EVMs
  • Adding candidate and party names to the ballot paper in addition to the party symbol

Given the increased use of EVMs, the election commission also conducted extensive voter education and training on the EVMs prior to the by-elections. Furthermore, the election commission attempted to more strictly enforce the election code of conduct and curb misuse of state resources for election purposes. The Center is unfortunately not able to comment on the overall quality of these efforts due to the limited nature of the observation mission. However, anecdotally it appeared that the election commission's voter education efforts were widespread and that there were a greater number of individuals held accountable for code of conduct violations.

Recommendations for the Future

The Carter Center recognizes the people of Nepal, the election commission, and the political parties for their successful conduct of a largely peaceful and orderly by-election process. Additionally, the Center notes that in general it appears the by-elections took place in a somewhat more conducive security environment as compared to the April 10, 2008 CA election. The Carter Center offers the following limited observations and recommendations in the spirit of cooperation and respect, and with the hope that they will indicate key areas for future action.

  1. In the event that EVM usage in Nepal is continued or expanded, ensure greater emphasis on logistical and contingency planning to address potential technical problems on election day. Additionally, ensure a voter verified paper trail.

    The use of EVMs was largely successful but faced some technical (generally battery-related) problems, particularly in Kaski and Dhanusha. This provides a valuable learning opportunity for the election commission in order to prepare for the planned wider usage of EVMs in the next general election. Given that the logistical and technical planning required will be significantly greater for the general election, the election commission should make careful study of how to minimize battery and machine failure and enhance contingency planning. Additionally it will be important to build on successful voter education efforts and expand them widely around the country in order to ensure that all voters are comfortable using the machines and understand the EVM process. Finally, the Carter Center's general assessment of best practice in electronic voting is technology that provides a voter verified paper trail (a paper "receipt" for the voter). This provision could not be accommodated by the current technology but should be a consideration for the election commission in future elections.
  2. Build on the successful use of citizenship cards as mandatory voter identification by introducing a national voter ID card that directly corresponds to the voter list, preferably with a unique number designated to each voter.

    The Carter Center applauds the election commission's decision to implement a mandatory voter identification requirement. However, discrepancies between names on citizenship cards and on the voter list caused problems for voters in some cases and slowed the overall polling process. Improving the accuracy of the voter list, expanding the number of valid documents used as ID, or creating a national civil register from which a voter list is produced, could help to resolve this issue. Regardless of the steps taken, there is of course a need to ensure that voters are able to easily obtain identification documents.
  3. Clarify EVM counting procedures and increase training for staff and party representatives to ensure a smooth counting process.

    Though overall the counting process went smoothly, it was not without areas for improvement. Some of the issues stemmed from a lack of clear, uniform and specific instructions for how the counting should proceed, which allowed then for variation amongst all of the counting centers. Additionally, the local procedures that were agreed by consensus were at times inefficient and unnecessarily slowed the counting process. In the future, the election commission should ensure that there are clear, uniform counting procedures, and staff and party representatives fully understand these procedures prior to election day.
  4. Reconsider the practice of counting at centralized district centers.

    As noted in the Center's previous election report, the practice of counting at centralized district centers presents logistical and administrative problems that can delay the count. Previously, the justification for this system was that it would facilitate the secrecy of the vote, as ballots from multiple areas could be mixed together. However, by using EVMs, it is now possible for all party agents to record which parties won in each ward – thus eliminating the justification for centralized counting. Should there be instances of retributive action at the ward level by particular parties following the by-elections, however, it may be necessary to reevaluate the EVM count process in this regard.
  5. Implement previous commitments made during the peace process to ensure a conducive electoral environment.

    Despite repeated promises, all sides have not yet fully implemented their commitments made during the course of the peace process. In order to ensure a conducive environment for elections and that all citizens (including those displaced from their homes) are able to exercise their right to vote, parties should make renewed efforts to implement their commitments including a cessation of violence, harassment and intimidation by party cadres and youth wings; land return and reform; compensation to conflict victims; inclusion of marginalized groups; and other key issues.


A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 70 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers in developing nations to increase crop production. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.

The Carter Center conducts election observation activities in a nonpartisan, professional manner in accordance with applicable Nepali law and international standards for election observation as set forth in the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation. The Center publishes its statements on its Web site:

Read more about the Carter Center work in Nepal >>

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