Chief Elections Commissioner, Election Commission of Nepal
Topics: Legal Framework, Voter Registration, Training, Election Schedules
Keywords: elections, Nepal, proportional representation, ballots
Interviewer(s): Rushda Majeed
Country of Reform: Nepal
Location: Kathmandu, Nepal
Date: Mon Jul 4 2011
Bhojraj Pokharel, who served as Chief Election Commissioner of the Election Commission of Nepal between 2006 and 2008, speaks about his experiences in developing procedures for, and overseeing the conduct of, the historic 2008 national elections. Pokharel, who had a long career in public service in Nepal prior to being appointed Chief Election Commissioner, explains in this interview that at the time of his appointment, “there was…nothing in place technically, legally or conceptually.” Only the most basic parameters as to how the elections were to be conducted were set forth in Nepal’s governing constitution; every other detail was left to Pokharel, and Nepal’s government, to resolve. At the time of Pokharel’s appointment, the constitutionally-mandated election day was only months away and the challenges were enormous. For example, before any planning could occur, an interim parliament had to pass laws giving basic guidance as to election procedures. Yet the political leaders were unable to reach timely agreements on important points in the legislation. Also immediate, and critical, was the need to bring the Maoists, who had been actively involved in civil strife for the previous ten years and who had never before been involved in conventional politics, into the election process. Pokharel managed to persuade the Maoists to participate fully in the election process, and to stay involved through a host of challenges that, at many points, threatened to make any sort of representative election impossible. Next, the methodology of preparing voter lists had to be decided upon, and eligibility determined. Staff willing to work in remote, strife-torn areas had to be found and trained, and their security assured. Ballot forms and voter education materials had to be developed and printed. Once printed, these materials had to be disseminated, so reliable means of transporting them to, and ensuring their integrity in, remote, strife-torn areas and areas that lacked electricity, transport, and other essentials had to be arranged. Pokharel describes his frustrations as these challenges prevented the conduct of the election on the first, constitutionally-mandated date in June 2007, and as still more challenges forced another postponement of the rescheduled date in November of that year. At one point, he recalls, he actually prepared his resignation, though ultimately he chose to withdraw it. Finally, he describes his pride, and the pride of the Nepalese people, as the election ultimately occurs in 2008, in an atmosphere largely free of violence and other disruptions.
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Bhojraj Pokharel was the Chief Election Commissioner of the Election Commission of Nepal between 2006 and 2008. In this capacity, he developed procedures for, and oversaw the conduct of, the historic 2008 elections for the national Constituent Assembly. Prior to becoming Chief Election Commissioner, he held various government posts including at Nepal’s ministries of health, home affairs and local government. After the votes were counted, Pokharel resigned his position and pursued graduate study at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In 2010, the Secretary-General of the United Nations appointed Pokharel to a panel charged with monitoring self-determination referenda for Southern Sudan and the Abyei area, making Pokharel the first Nepali to hold such a high ranking position for the United Nations.