No Alternative To Elections
Yuba Nath Lamsal
It has been more than 16 months since the new constitution, drafted by the Constituent Assembly composed of people's elected representatives, was promulgated. Yet the politicians and pundits are of the view that the constitution is yet to be fully implemented. According to them, the constitution will be fully implemented only when the three tiers of election are held.
The three tiers of election include federal parliament at the center, provincial parliaments and local bodies. Elections are, beyond any shade of doubt, necessary in a democracy. The constitution of Nepal has clearly specified that the present Legislature-Parliament will cease to exist from January 21, 2018, which means the election for the lower chamber of federal parliament or the House of Representatives must be held before that. The National Assembly, the upper chamber of the federal parliament, cannot be formed without holding the elections for the provincial parliament and local bodies. The Constitution, in its Article 86 (2), has a clear provision that out of 59 members, 56 are to be elected by an electoral college composed of members of the provincial parliament, chiefs and deputy chiefs of the village committees and mayors and deputy mayors of the municipalities. The rest three will be nominated by the government. This clearly implies that the federal parliament cannot be complete without elections for all three levels.
The local bodies are defunct for more than 16 years since 2002 in the absence of local elections. Junior bureaucrats are manning the local bodies. Local bodies are the ones to execute local self-governance and deliver service to the people. Nepal has already adopted federalism although some of the issues related to federalism are yet to be resolved. In federalism, local and provincial bodies are all powerful and independent to formulate laws, policies and all other stuff except foreign policy and defence. In the absence of election for the local bodies, democratisation and development process in the grassroots has been stalled and will continue to be stalled.
Free and fair election is the soul of democracy. In the absence of free and fair election, functioning democracy can be impossible. In the same manner, free and fair elections are not possible in the absence of democracy. In other words, free election and democracy are closely linked. Although election alone is not democracy, election, of course, is the main basis for democratic consolidation. This also requires early election for all three levels.
Now a debate is underway on the implementation of the constitution. Some pundits and even politicians are of the view that the elections are the basis for the implementation of the present constitution. It is true that all three levels of elections must be held prior to January 21, 2018. But the logic that the constitution will not be implemented without holding the elections looks something is amiss. The constitution has already been implemented as all functionaries of the state are functioning as per the constitution. The Constituent Assembly was transformed into the Legislature-Parliament, which elected two prime ministers since then in which all political parties in the parliament participated and enacted several laws. In this process, all political parties in the Legislature-Parliament have exercised their rights. What can be other evidences for the implementation of the constitution than this?
Not all provisions of the constitution are practically implemented at one time, and they are put into practice only when it is required. In the same manner, our constitution has 308 articles, which cannot be implemented all at a time. All necessary provisions and Articles have already been in operation, and the rest will be done as and when circumstances demand. So far as the elections are concerned, they must be held in time for which the political parties and the government are required to create a suitable environment.
It is of course true that all provisions specified in the constitution must be respected and followed, which is the duty of all law-binding citizens. But some political parties have applied double standard as they follow the constitution and participate in the constitutional process when it serves their interest. But the same parties make statement in public that they are not accepting the constitution because their concerns and agendas have not been accommodated in the statute. This is a marked inconsistency on the part of the political parties and politicians more particularly the Madhes-based parties.
The constitution was promulgated legitimately in the participation of more than 90 per cent members of the Constituent Assembly. In a democracy, decision of the majority must prevail while attempts should also be made to accommodate the voices and concerns of the minorities. Moreover, the constitution is not a rigid document but a dynamic one, which can be amended if deemed necessary. The constitution itself has provided rooms for its amendment.
In the spirit of accommodating the concerns of the minorities, the ruling parties have already tabled the constitution amendment bill in the House, which is now the property of the Legislature Parliament. It is the rights of the members of the parliament either to accept or reject or modify the bill. The political parties now need to focus their debate and arguments in the parliament instead of trading blames on the streets.
Coming back to the election again, election is not merely a technical and legal issue but a political one. The political parties first need to create an atmosphere conducive for election. Given the position of the political parties at present, they seem to be divided. The CPN-UML is seeking early election while it is opposing the amendment bill. Likewise, the Madhes-based parties are demanding that the constitution amendment bill be adopted first in order to ensure their participation in the political process. These regional parties are determined to foil the election procedures if the elections were announced prior to the constitution amendment bill. Under pressure from these two extreme views, the government and the ruling parties have adopted a two-pronged strategy to simultaneously go ahead with the election preparation and constitution amendment.
Basis of democracy
Local bodies, the building block of democracy, must be empowered to institutionalise democracy, and bolster developmental activities in the local level. In the absence of empowerment of local bodies, democracy cannot be strengthened and institutionalised. It, therefore, requires holding early election for the local bodies and then provincial election and the election for the federal parliament within one year. Local election should precede the other two if the political course we have taken is to be completed at the earliest. The political parties may have their partisan differences on various issues and matters, which is natural in a democracy. But they must come together on core issue like holding election for which they must find a middle way. This requires flexibility and sense of responsibility on the part of the political parties and their leaders instead of sticking to their personal and partisan ego.
What should be taken into account is that the country comes first ahead of everything. If the country wins, all of us will be victorious. There should not be any politicking in the local election. If anyone is afraid of going to the election under any pretext is an indication that he/she does not have faith in democracy and people. Thus, there is no alternative but to go for the election if we are to strengthen our democratic dispensation and safeguard the political achievements we gained through different struggles of the people in the past.