Local Polls Should Not Be Deferred
Prime minister Puspa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ has expressed commitment the other day to hold local polls during the second week of May. It is claimed that the major political parties – the Nepali Congress, CPN (UML) and the Maoist-Centre -- have agreed to hold local polls by expediting and accelerating the necessary preparations for the same.
The Prime Minister has also asked the Election Commission to gear up for local elections so that the polls could be conducted in May this year. However, it is not yet clear whether the polls would be conducted according to the report submitted by the Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC) or the subservient to the existing arrangement is yet to be clear. But Prime Minister Prachanda seems interested in holding the polls for the local government according to the LLRC report while UML is prepared to face the polls for either of the arrangements.
The Nepali Congress is not yet sure for itself as its general secretary Sashanka Koirala insisted the other day that the local polls according to the LLRC report would breed controversies and disputes. However, the NC leader is all for polls no matter whether or not the much polemical constitution amendment bill would get through the Parliament.
The ruling coalition is also in an awkward position due particularly to the internal power sharing arrangement between the NC and the Maoist Centre as Prime Minister Prachanda has to handover the rein of the prime minister to NC president Deuba after holding the local elections. In order to implement the power sharing accord too, local polls have become a necessity.
Moreover, as the new federal constitution requires that elections for the three layers of the government namely the federal, provincial and local should be held within January 2018, it has become obligatory for the government to hold the local polls as it is one of the seminal parts of the constitution implementation.
Undoubtedly, it is necessary to plan for holding the polls for three tiers of the government to allow the provisions in the constitution take shape, the local election has become a material necessity to begin with for democracy, devolution and development of the country.
Political party leaders have indeed committed a dereliction in their responsibility by deferring local polls in one pretext or the other for years. They have done a disservice to democracy and development which cannot be vindicated on this or that ground. Even today the leaders of the Federal Alliance (Madhesi Morcha) have not taken cognizance of the need for holding the local polls and strengthening local democracy. In their view, local government is against the federal set-up provisioned in the constitution.
However, it needs to be understood that a stronger version of local government endowed with functions, finances and functionaries is the foundation for working and robust federal set-up in the country.
When we talk about local government polls we have found that for the last fifteen years, the local
governments in Nepal have been left to fend off for themselves without elected representatives. There has been no local election since 1997AD when the multiparty local electoral exercise was conducted last. This was the second democratic local election ever held in this country – the first being in1992AD immediately following the democratic change in 1990.
One can say that the second local elections as they were held more or less in line with provisions
of the Local Self-governance Act 1999 did constitute the milestones in the shaping of local government in the country. Since mid July 2002, the local bodies in Nepal have been run by the central government appointees, and the promise of the vibrant local democracy that was raising its potency and prospect has been severely dampened. The robust optimism that was generated by the local government has been shattered.
However, the popular movement in 2006 AD succeeded to dawn new era in the Nepalese political landscape. The dissolved parliament was reinstated. In spite of the fact that the
political parties had agreed on it, the dissolved local bodies were not restored. What is dismaying to note is that the governments, no matter which party is at the lead, show their commitment to hold local elections through garnering political consensus, but no party goes
for it seriously as a result of which democratic local elections has become a matter of distant dream in Nepal.
Moreover, the parties are power-oriented and tend to have an illusion that they will have advantage in the elections only if they are at helm of power to use state resources to influence the poll outcome in their favour. When they are in power they harp in favour of the elections. But once they are out of power, they are against it as they fear that they will loose the elections.
Much to the detriment of the constitutionalism, the Election Commission of Nepal has been
a mute spectator. It is mandated to hold the election only at the behest of the incumbent government. The constitutional body cannot decide on its own and announce for holding the elections. It is the discretion of the government whether to go to the polls or not as this also depends upon the agreement among the major political stakeholders in favour of it. It indicates that the local democracy has become the casualty of the political bickering despite the fact
that the new democratic federal constitution of Nepal has accorded seminal place to local government institutions with a separate list of mandates and competencies.
The constitution in its Article 303 places constitutional obligation upon the political
stakeholders to fill the political void that has long persisted at the local level. The political parties should, therefore, prepare for holding local polls including the elections to the provincial and
federal levels that will set stage for the implementation of the constitution.