Right Honourable President Ram Baran Yadav, Right Honourable Vice President Parmanand Jha, Right Honourable Chairman of the Constituent Assembly Subash Nemwang, Honourable Acting Chief Election Commissioner Neil Kantha Uprety, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour for me to be here today at the opening of the Electoral Education and Information Centre. I would like to congratulate the Election Commission on establishing the Centre. It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge the great collaboration between the Commission, UNDP and the Australian Government that made this happen. Without the financial contribution of the Australian Government these plans would have remained only on paper.
The new Centre is but one part of a wider engagement by UNDP with the Electoral Commission. Our association with the Commission goes back to the very early days of electoral reform in this country. Over recent years we have worked together on the voter registration process, strategic planning,and capacity building of the Commission itself. The European Commission and the Governments of the UK, Norway, Denmark and Japan are part of this wider effort which is set to grow exponentially over the coming years. Around the globe, UNDP is proud to be supporting one in three Parliaments in the developing world and an election somewhere every two weeks.
The importance of the electoral process in Nepal hardly needs emphasis. Its role in legitimizing the laws and policies of the State are central to the building of an effective democracy. Its role in providing a vehicle for non-violent debate is central to building a vibrant and secure democracy.
Allow me to reiterate the importance of ensuring that all of Nepal’s citizens are given equal opportunity to exercise this fundamental right. The Voter registration process has revealed that a substantial number of citizens are unable to register due to lack of documentation. This is a democratic deficit that must be addressed quickly. Both by the Executive, to improve the ability of citizens to access citizenship documents. And by the Legislature, to ensure that this country has laws which recognize the equality of all its citizens. And that no child is left at risk of Statelessness.
The importance of education in building a vibrant democracy is no less important. At this time of turbulent change in Nepal, now more than ever, we need an informed electorate and a culture of debate. Uncertainty and ignorance are sending people to the streets. News headlines only give glimpses of the contours of the emerging ‘New Nepal’ under design during these historic days – glimpses of an emerging electoral system, form of governance, a federal set-up. But ‘glimpses’ leave much unsaid and an information vacuum. The vacuum can and is easily filled by wrong information sometimes deliberately.
So more than ever, Nepal’s political leaders inside and outside Government have a critical responsibility to each become educators in their own right. To share their insights into the emerging new dispensation, their understanding of the emerging principles of Nepali democracy. To explain and defend where they made compromise and why they felt impelled to do so in the wider national interest. And to defend the emerging Constitution and build an informed electorate that will defend Nepal’s democracy. This new Centre is at its core, an extraordinary new resource to support them in this critical responsibility.
Congratulations to the Commission. And thank you to the Government of Australia and to the UNDP team that made this happen.