Local Polls Vehicle Of Grassroots Democracy

 

Ritu Raj Subedi

 

With vital electoral laws in place, the government has moved to hold the local elections by mid-May next year. The other day, it wrote a letter to the Election Commission (EC) to carry out necessary preparations to conduct the local polls in earnest. This step has cleared the deck for the EC to execute logistic works. It has drawn positive response from the main opposition CPN-UML and other parties. It is the first significant political initiative that is thawing the sour relations between the ruling and opposition parties. Unfortunately, the recalcitrant Madhesi Front has given the cold shoulder to the election bid. It has flown into a rage over the government bid of holding the local polls, leaving Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda in a tight spot.

 

Waiting game

 

Despite the constitutional obligation to work for elections with alacrity, the government had been playing a waiting game in order to take the disgruntled Madhesi parties into confidence through the amendment to the new constitution. As the government sensed that the amendment bid is certain to go down the tube, it has thrown an election card to show that its commitment to constitution is beyond question. In fact, the coalition government has found itself between the hammer and the anvil. On the one hand, the opposition still casts doubt on the government’s intention of holding the poll for it refused to declare the date, but on the other hand the Madhesi parties have threaten to end their months of political romance with the ruling parties. In order to placate the Madhesi parties, PM Prachanda called them to his residence on Friday and assured them that they need not worry about the election since he has not announced the date. He even promised to hold the polls only after approving the amendment proposal. With the toppling of KP Sharma Oli-led government, Madhes-based parties had pinned hopes on the Nepali Congress-CPN-Maoist Centre alliance to address their controversial demands. The NC-MC coalition locked horns with the UML and endured an implosion of anger and backlash from the people of Province No 5. The proposed amendment seeks to split the said province from hills and has triggered unnecessary communal and ethnic animosity between the Madhesi and Pahadi (hill-origin) people.

 

The government decided to correspond to the EC two hours after the parliament approved the Bill on the Local Level Election, 2073 that authorises the government to declare the poll date.  Clause 4 (1) of the Bill has mandated the government to fix the poll date in consultation with EC but the government has recoiled from exercising its legal right. The opposition lawmakers pounced on its dilatory posture, terming it unfortunate and disparagement of new election law. EC chief Dr Ayodhi Prasad Yadav has said that the constitutional body requires at least 120 days from the day of the poll date announcement. He also admitted that the government’s letter created confusion as it has failed to mention the poll date.  

It has widely been perceived that behind not announcing the poll date lay the motive of the ruling parties to prolong their stay in power, according to the opposition. The government has formed a three-member taskforce under the Local Development Minister Hit Raj Pandey to study the report of the Local Level Restructuring Commission and offer suggestions on sorting out the dispute besetting it it within two weeks. The LLRC report should be the basis to start election preparations and update the voters’ list. But, forming a committee to study it means to further defer the election.

 

To one's bewilderment, the Madhes-based parties are bracing for spoiling the local polls only to turn the grand constitutional project topsy-turvy. Holding the local polls is the first decisive step towards implementing the new constitution. It is bizarre that the Madhesi parties have shown their reservation about empowering the local government. They do not want to devolve powers to the local elected representatives. Instead, they are for strong provincial government so that they can maintain their grip on Terai politics. They have put forth four conditions to hold the local polls. One of them is to remove the provision of ‘electoral college’ from the new constitution. As per this, mayors and deputy-mayors of municipalities and chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of Village Development Committees will cast a ballot in the election of the National Assembly members, President and Vice President. This is the robust way to take the government to the doorsteps of the people. It will effectively minimise the arbitrary behaviours and dictates of central and provincial government. But, the Madhesi parties have stood against the essence of local democracy because it will erode their highhandedness and desire to be the unelected leaders forever.

 

Litmus test

 

The opposition has long been demanding that the government announce date of the local polls that have not been held for almost two decades. The local bodies have been without the elected representatives for the last 14 years. With the restoration of multiparty democracy, the local polls were held twice in 2049 BS and 2054 BS. Considered to be a viable vehicle of grassroots democracy, the local polls had played a significant role in grooming local leaders and enhancing the participation of the people in development and decision-making matters. In democracy, election is the key to ensuring a transparent, accountable and responsive governance system. It is a litmus test of the political parties in which people exercise their sovereign right to give greater mandate to their preferred parties and downsize those with whom they are not satisfied. Thus, the local election is a true form of participatory democracy, which according to political scientist professor Thomas Meyer, ‘productively combines political competition, the public welfare-oriented discussions of political action programmes among the public and the continual participation of large number of interested citizens in the political process.’

 

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