Holding Local Polls In April

Nandalal Tiwari: After much debate, dispute and blame game, the major three parties, the ruling CPN-Maoist Center and Nepali Congress and the main opposition CPN-UML, have agreed to hold the local polls by the end of April. They have also decided to have the electoral bills passed by the Parliament within a week. Reports say, keeping in mind the need to hold three levels of elections within January 20, 2018 as provisioned in the constitution, they have also agreed to hold all the levels of elections by December this year.

 If the importance of the three party meeting held on January 21 lies in anything, it is about their agreement in principle to fix the tentative date for the local polls. But there is a big question. Will it be possible given the fact that the Madhes-based parties are opposed to any election until the constitution amendment Bill is passed and that even the ruling Nepali Congress wants to have a revision in the report submitted by the Local Level Restructuring Commission. And that the coalition of the opposition parties including the main opposition UML has vowed to defeat the amendment bill.

Challenges

Given the present political situation, there are no doubt big challenges to hold the local polls. First of all, getting the election related bills from the Parliament is a challenge. It is very likely that the Madhes-based parties or the United Democratic Madhesi Front will obstruct the parliament. This may cause further delay in getting the bills passed although the three major parties combined with other parties can easily make up the necessary two-third majority to pass the bills. If the bills are not passed within a week as agreed by the three parties, it will further delay the poll date. The Election Commission (EC) has long been saying that all election related bills should be passed at least 120 days before the election date so that it has time for making needful preparations. Now even if the bills are passed within this week, the EC will have only three months or just about 90 days for preparations. Will the EC be ready to hold polls in such situation?

Another equally daunting challenge is the stance of the Nepali Congress which has been seeking some revision in the report submitted by the LLRC. It means there will be a new dispute among the political parties over the report. It might take some time to settle. But by the time the parties find a common ground all the possibility of holding the poll by April end may have gone. But in that case the parties may change the date to around mid-May. But even for this, they should settle the issue within a month or so otherwise holding election even in May will be impossible. As the rainy season will start after May, the polls can be held only in November or December. This means either the parties will have to hold all three levels of election at one go or amend the constitution itself to postpone the poll date of the other elections of provincial and federal parliament.

The third challenge is of course posed by the UDMF. It is unlikely that the constitution amendment bill will be endorsed without the support of the main opposition. And the main opposition is unlikely to support the bill as it is. This means, either the government or the UDMF should be ready to revise it as the UML wants or be ready to accept the result of the parliamentary voting. Many things depend on the ruling parties and UDMF. The UDMF leaders have been saying that they would not participate in the polls if the amendment bill is not endorsed.

This is something illogical because the ruling parties or the government has tabled the bill in the parliament as per the agreement between the UDMF and the ruling parties at the time of government formation. But the Madhesi leaders seem to be making the ruling parties responsible for passing the bill. Therefore, either the government should be ready to hold local polls even if the Madhesi parties keep on warning of the boycott or take them into confidence for the polls.

The fourth challenge as of this time is the reservation of the Madhesi parties over the LLRC report. Both the NC and the UDMF want to revise the report. But if any revision on the report is sought, it will only open up new challenges and ruin any election environment.

Clearing Road

If the election to the local levels is to be held, there is only one way and that is no revision of the LLRC report and taking the confidence of the UDMF leaders that they will take part in elections no matter whether the amendment bill is passed or rejected. If the ruling parties can convince the UDMF about the importance of holding the local polls first and voting on the amendemnet bill after the poll that will also be fine. But even for this the NC should stop talking about the need to revise the LLRC report.

The UML, if it wants the local polls, should soften its stand on the amendment bill so that the UDMF is not irritated. Moreover, the UDMF should understand political power balance in the parliament and that any resumption of agitation is not a solution in itself. Boundaries of provinces can be changed in future but even for that to happen the federal constitution should be implemented. If the federal constitution is not implemented in time, federalism will come under question. This is so because public disenchantment with federalism is increasing.

 

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