The battle rages on

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The leave to apply for a judicial review of the decisions and conduct of the Electoral Supervisory Commission and the electoral commissioner lodged in court by a Roshi Bhadain who seems to have regained his mojo is the latest move in a series of legal actions that continue to hit the government and the Electoral Commissioner’s Office (ECO).

Bhadain’s action reinforces that of the opposition, today united, which has played it safe by opting for a more conservative approach – petitions lodged by constituency, challenging the election of several members of parliament and the electoral process as a whole. The nu lavwa, nu dignité platform – a group of citizens who have organised several protests since the result of the election – will crown it all with a constitutional plaint with summons it seems to be working on concerning breach of the constitution by the ECO (see our cover story). That’s the greatest number of petitions against any government, a lot of varied legal actions and a lot of challenges.

“The destruction of the Electoral Commissioner’s Office was not done through little pinpricks but rather through blatant and continuous hammer smites while it is cowering in a corner, weeping silently.”

But more than the government, what is more important in this debate is the ECO, whose credibility is being undermined on a daily basis. This credibility, built over years of an impeccable track record, has suddenly been smashed before our very eyes. The destruction was not done through little pinpricks but rather through blatant and continuous hammer smites while it is cowering in a corner, weeping silently. First, there were dubious nominations on its board that it did not put up a fight against. It was the first blow dealt to the ECO, nibbling at its very foundations. Then when a snap election was called in the middle of school exams, depriving it of premises, experienced and valuable officers, it took it lying down. Now if Bhadain’s accusation – as filed in his petition for a judicial review – that the ECO did hire State Informatics Ltd, headed by Pratabsing Bacorisen, a member of the MSM, to be in charge of entering the number of votes in the computer system checks out, we are in very sad times indeed. The implications of this are that a political party had free hand to input the election results and potentially manipulate them at ease, unopposed by opposition candidates, who were denied access to the computer room or did not even know of its existence. That is huge! One might say that we have reached a point of no-return as far as the independence and credibility of our ECO are concerned.

And while the ECO is being bashed by accusations from all sides, the next thing we hear is that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Indian Electoral Commission!  This was done in the usual opacity that has come to characterise all the deals we have had with big countries. The ECO has made the move that much worse by not giving a clue as to the terms of the agreement or the reasons behind it.

As these cases are hitting our courts of law – our last recourse as citizens – one dares hope that there is a quick dénouement so that we can see more clearly into all the confusion around us. It is not so much a question of the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of those sitting in our National Assembly today. Rather, it is a question of whether we are getting value for money from one of the major institutions we have so far been putting our trust in. It is a question of whether we are living in a democracy, a pseudo-democracy or heading towards a one-party state. It is a question of paramount importance.

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