Elusive National And Local Polls

Kushal Pokharel

The inability of the incumbent government to announce dates for local, provincial and federal elections has become a matter of grave concern in Nepal’s current political environment. Although the new constitution has clearly stated that all these three elections should be held by January 2018, there are no visible signs of the polls being conducted on time.

Speculations

Moreover, the Election Commission has explicitly said that it will not be in a position to conduct elections if the government doesn’t declare polls date after necessary arrangements. Amid this scenario, several speculations are being made about the mainstream political parties. While some argue that these parties are not interested in local and provincial government elections and simply want to hold elections to the federal parliament, another emerging view suggests that election is not the priority of the top three political parties for now. They just want to expand their power and influence taking advantage of the status quo. Extracting benefit from the ongoing transition and playing a power game in the political quagmire has become the dominant agenda.

Considered as the bedrock of democratic practice, conducting polls in the stipulated time is significant for major breakthrough in the implementation of the new constitution which has been discarded by a section of the Madhes-based parties. The ideal scenario would be to go for  a local poll prior to other elections. But with the anti-federalist forces raising their eyebrows in the protracted transition, the challenge of institutionalising federalism and republicanism is growing. Even constitution experts and political scientists have started casting doubt over the successful implementation of federalism in Nepal.   

Critical assessment of the rhetorical stances of the major political parties- NC, CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre offers deep understanding of how the course of election will move in this country in the coming days.

 While the NC, the largest political party represented in the current parliament, has been stressing local polls without further delay, the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre have not given a clear indication of the same though they have repeatedly agreed to go for this election in public forum. In fact, the NC is becoming restless  for going to polls as it is directly related to the change in the current political balance of power if the gentleman’s agreement reached between Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba is anything to go by.  If all these parties are united for polls, then the question arise: What is really not allowing them to declare a poll date? Whether there is the role of some external actors as has always been suspected in Nepal’s political course in this issue also needs to be examined.

Blaming the present government for the delay in this direction has become a preferred choice of the CPN-UML, the major opposition party in the parliament. Furthermore, the Oli-led CPN-UML has cast doubts over the real intention of the ruling coalition to hold elections, and ensure political stability in the nation. Political bickering over the issue of such prominence is not a  good omen for the nation. 

The government has been successful in tabling the election related bills in the parliament even though the progress towards its finalisation has been sluggish. For example, ‘Local Bodies Election Bill-2016’, and ‘Election (Crime and Punishment) Bill-2016’ which are vital to conduct local polls have been drafted. Similarly, ‘Bill to Amend and Integrate Laws related to Functions, Duties and Powers of the Election Commission- 2016’; ‘Bill to Amend and Integrate Laws related to Voters’ List- 2016’ and ‘Bill to Amend and Integrate Laws Related to Political Parties-2016 BS’ has been sent  to the respective parliamentary committees for clause-wise deliberations. Many other important bills and procedures before going to the polls need to be finalised, but the time is running out.

Current State

With the final report submitted by the Local Body Restructuring Commission (LBRC), the nation was hoping that the country would soon see two decades of local government vacuum coming to an end. But the sheer reluctance of the government even to receive the report on time killed the euphoria around the local polls. This problem got worse with the open declaration of the Madhes-based parties to reject the LBRC recommendations relating to the structure and function of the local governance units.

Talking about the provincial poll, the outstanding challenge remains to be the delineation of provincial boundaries in a manner that is acceptable to the opposing forces. Although the government forcefully registered the constitution amendment bill to address the discontent of the Madhesi parties, it is still languishing at the corner of the parliament showing no sign of being endorsed. Amid the failure to hold the local and provincial elections, it would be unwise to expect an election for the federal parliament  because without managing the governance system of the provincial and local units, federalism will just be in paper and not in practice.

Bracing for election demands a strong political will. The inherent intention of our political leaders particularly those who are at the helm of the power is pertinent. Only with a strong political commitment, the country can march ahead towards creating an election climate thereby expediting all the pre-election works needed to successfully hold the polls on time. With the clock ticking rapidly, it is looking a very serious issue for the nation to manage on time and avert the potential political crises.   

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