Election Security Debate Held at the ICMS

The Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies Alumni Association (APCSSAAN) organized a discussion on "Voters and Polling Security on Constitutional Assembly Election-2070" which took place on 15 November 2013 at the ICMS auditorium. The Inspector General of the Armed Police Force Kosh Raj Wanta, Acting Inspector General of Nepal Police Upendra Kant Aryal, Joint Secretary of Home Ministry Shankar Koirala, ICMS principal Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Bala Nanda Sharma and other security experts participated in the program and shared their views. Participants of the program declared their views on election security.

Mr. Shankar Koirala, the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, stated that, within the ongoing election context, the integrated security system is intact. He stated that voter safety and security is a very important part of the election process, as elections cannot be successfully completed unless voters go to cast their votes. He stressed the importance of the security of voters from the moment they step out of their homes, reach the polling station, cast their vote and return home safely.

He further informed everyone that a security plan was developed based on the information and input provided by experts and professionals. He further mentioned that security personnel had visited constituencies and each polling station many times and developed an independent plan for each station based on the threat of that individual location.

According to Mr. Koirala, the following arrangements are in place:

a.       An Integrated Election Security Plan (including the Nepal Army, Nepal Police, Armed Police Force and the National Investigation Department) has been formulated which includes the security of voters as well.

b.      Every polling station has been visited by the concerned security personnel and a 'security plan' developed following an assessment of threat levels (the topography, local threats and other situational factors).

c.       The deployment of security personnel will be done carefully.

d.      In every district, a dedicated command post has been installed so that maximum security can be provided to voters. Help, if needed, will be delivered promptly. For this, an effective communication system is in place, maximum coordination between the security forces is ensured, and reserve forces are deployed in appropriate places so that reinforcement will be swift and effective.

e.       To ensure that the security system works, the dedicated centers were visited by senior officers and organizations on a periodic basis, and the plan updated and resourced when necessary. To provide quick reinforcement, helicopters are detailed and placed at suitable locations, and flag marches organized where deemed necessary.

f.       Press conferences and briefings have been conducted daily since 14 November 2013, so that the important message of safety and security is disseminated to the public.

g.      Toll-free telephone numbers for police and emails have been made public so that the public can inform the Security Forces about any threats.

h.      Any person is free to request security if he/she feels threatened.

The security personnel are taking safety and security-related issues seriously each and every moment. Security plans are already in place and forces deployed accordingly.  Lastly, Mr. Koirala mentioned that two-way intensive communication is in place and reports are being sent to the Secretariat on a regular basis. Everything is in place for elections, and the situation is under control. In fact, the security system is a lot better compared to that of 2064 B.S.

Mr. Nabin Ghimire, recently retired from the post of Secretary of Ministry of Home Affairs, said that security can never be 100 percent. He commented that security forces should aim to execute a plan that is well developed after considering the threats of that particular time and place. What matters is how the plan is implemented or executed, according to Mr. Ghimire. He also stressed that peace and security cannot be separated. An important election issue is how security personnel play their individual roles. Elections are a political matter, but security forms an integral part.

Components of an election security plan are as follows;

a.       Legal Framework

b.       Conflict Management between Political Parties

c.       Political Budget

d.       Capacity Enhancement for Security Issues

e.       Political Finances

f.        Results Management

g.       Election-Related Results and Mediation

h.       Voter Awareness

i.        Monitoring

j.        Political Violence Management

k.       Media Monitoring

l.        Detachment of Youth from Politics

Mr. Ghimire remarked that security is an abstract concept that cannot be properly defined. It is a feeling and should be seen as an opportunity. People fear death, thus security is a highly significant issue.

Mr. Govinda Kusum, a former Secretary of Ministry of Home Affairs, expressed that we could compare previous security plans with the current one and identify improvements. The havoc created by the past bombings sent a message to the public that they are vulnerable. Intimidation is one of the most dangerous issues here. Security does not only relate to voters coming to polling booths safely and casting their votes. In fact, it encompasses all activities from pre-election activities to post-election works. The security threats and other such issues should therefore also be taken into account by the government.

Misinformation is another issue which is creating an insecure situation. Security systems that can be deployed at only the government level is a narrow, one-sided notion. Other agencies, activists, media, civil society and individuals, including national and international actors can also play a role.

In addition, Mr. Kusum reflected that information relay should be efficient so that immediate solutions can be found . A lack of trust between people and the government is also a major weakness. He further stressed information flow, as it helps to relay information and find solutions immediately.

Furthermore, threats also arise from political parties and their candidates who are participating in the elections. Government activities should therefore be transparent, and statistical methods applied for analysis. The concept “by every means we have to win” can lead to grave consequences in an election.

Mr. Kosh Raj Wonta, the Inspector General of the Armed Police Force, said that the current security measures were more dynamic and greatly improved as compared to plans of previous years, with security organisations complementing each other. Talking about misinformation and propaganda, he said that a 'media cell' or 'information cell' could be created to disseminate the right information to the general public.   

Retired Major General Mahesh Bikram Karki said that there is no need to worry as the security plans are properly developed and, most importantly, there are balancing factors, unknown to us, which automatically balance the situation. He further said that distribution of voter ID is more significant. If this factor is handled properly, many problems related to voter safety and security would be addressed automatically.

SSP Ramesh Kharel, APF, said that the cooperation and coordination with the army and police are a lot better compared to the time of insurgency, which has led to a better security system this time. Media has been fabricating news and producing overreactions to situations which has confused people. Media should inform and not misinform; they should try to disseminate information that is authentic and verified. One potential threat SSP Ramesh Kharel suspected was either inaction or overreaction by security personnel as temporary police forces have been hired.

Retired Brigadier General Kesher Bahadur Bhandari said that elections would definitely be held. He also commented that various political parties have a need to either retain their image or maintain their dominance. They have faith in the security situation and that is the reason why they say that the elections will surely take place.  He admitted that distribution of voter ID tends to be a problem, which may lead to a crisis. For example, people may have to face problems due to fake, incomplete, inadequate or poorly printed voter ID cards. Also, the country is not ready to mobilise the 40,000 observers needed. Weather might also be a problem for reinforcement, particularly for helicopters.

Security personnel’s alienation, to some extent, towards a party can also be a problem. Feelings of insecurity among the public might lead to lack of support for the parties.

Incidents in voting booths also make people reluctant to vote. Many of us are aware that Maoists themselves can create havoc by internal plotting and then run away; the Maoists might keep casting votes in their own favour. Other major threats on Election Day - or preceding it -  could also come from former armed Maoist combatants. Weapons in the hands of those who are not in favour of the election will remain a threat. If political parties don’t interfere with elections in Nepal, the Nepal Police can do miracles. They should be left to work freely.

Ample amounts of resources have been made available for elections, so the outcome should satisfy the public. To convince the public, a cost-benefit analysis should be done.

A representative officer from the NID said that the results are predicted to be quite close at this time. The situation is difficult, but severe violence is not expected. Baidya’s party is still divided, so he is not very strong. Although a radical element is present, it cannot cause significant impact. However, we expect voter participation to be lower as many are abroad, and the ones remaining are frightened. Many people are still illiterate in many parts of the country, so elections are not taken seriously. They cast their vote on the basis of who has given what and who has promised to give what.

Former IGP of the Armed Police Force, Mr. Sanat Basnet said that the security plan only requires to be put into action. For successful operation, both psychological and physical aspects should be considered. Although the security plan has been developed in minute detail, we cannot deny the fact that people are frightened. It is the duty of politicians as well to educate and assure people about security and lead them to the polling stations.