Local Polls For Democracy
Yuba Nath Lamsal
Election for local bodies appears to be round the corner. If all goes well, the local election will be held in next three months. The constitution requires all three elections should be held in the next eleven months. The three elections are for local bodies (municipalities and village councils); provincial legislature and federal legislature consisting of the House of Representatives and the National Assembly. But uncertainties still prevail.
Given the climatic condition and cultural tradition of Nepal, we have limited months for holding the elections. Elections in Nepal are not possible in all 12 months of the year. The period between mid-June and mid-September is rainy season during which our farmers are occupied in agricultural activities. During the monsoon season, the country often suffers from floods and landslides, which may pose difficulty even for the movement of people.
Soon after the rainy season is over festival season begins. Great festivals of Hindus and Muslims fall during this time between September and November like Dashain, Tihar or Dipawali, Chhath and Eid. Similarly, winter is harsh especially in the Himalayan region and elections are not possible there from mid-December to mid-March. Elections therefore have to be conducted either between March and July or in November and December.
The Election Commission requires at least three months for preparations. That means elections cannot be held before June this year. The government has already written a formal letter to the Election Commission asking it to make necessary preparations for holding the elections at the earliest. Accordingly, the Election Commission, too, is making its regular preparations for holding all three levels of election within the stipulated timeframe. But election dates have so far not been announced.
The government is willing to hold all three elections at the earliest and the Election Commission is ready to hold the elections in June or July provided all necessary tools are given to it. But elections are not possible only with the government's willing and the Election Commission's readiness. There are several factors responsible for the successful holding of any election.
The first thing we need to do is to create a political atmosphere conducive for election. The political atmosphere means the understanding and consensus among the existing political forces to hold the election, without which elections cannot be held. Another important factor is the legal tools to hold the elections. The government needs to get the necessary election related laws enacted from the parliament to facilitate the election. The Election Commission cannot hold the election without necessary laws. Some laws have already been enacted, but some more are still waiting for their endorsement from the parliament.The third one is the logistic side including necessary budget for the Election Commission. After this, the government is required to announce the election dates. If the local election is to be held before the rainy season, election dates must be announced within a week. Otherwise elections may not be possible before the monsoon season, and we will have to wait until November. Once these issues are settled, the Election Commission can expedite all the preparatory works.
As far as the political atmosphere is concerned, it is still not positive. The political forces are divided even over election and other issues that have direct bearing on election. The Madhes-based parties are demanding amendment to the constitution to address their concerns before election is held. The government, responding positively to the demands of the Madhesi parties, has registered a bill in the parliament seeking amendment to the present constitution. The issue concerning the constitution amendment bill needs to be settled for the polls. We must create an atmosphere for all political forces to participate in the election. But this issue is currently getting more complicated. Although the bill has been registered in the parliament to address the concerns and demands of the Madhesis, the Madhes-based parties have not taken its ownership. There lies their political dishonesty. The CPN-UML has vehemently opposed it and has vowed to fail the bill. As the opposition party, the stance of CPN-UML on the amendment bill is understandable.
But in parliamentary democracy opposition party is called the loyal opposition, which in certain sense is a part of the government. It is also the responsibility of the opposition party to contribute and help the government in finding solution to the key national issues and problems. The constitution and election are the national issues and it is the duty of all political parties—ruling and opposition—to work together and find an appropriate solution for the larger interest of the country. The CPN-UML is, therefore, expected to play a more moderate role to facilitate the election.
There can be debate whether or not the demands of the Madhes-based parties are justified. But the Madhesis have become a force to reckon with especially after they have virtually kept the country's political process in hostage. In a democracy individuals and political parties have rights to express their disgruntlements and grievances in a peaceful manner. In this sense, we have nothing to say against the Madhes-based parties as their protests are peaceful in nature. But one thing that needs to be debated as to why the Madhesis are not taking the ownership of the constitution that was written with the participation of more than 90 per cent people's elected representatives in the Constituent Assembly and endorsed by two-thirds majority. If we believe in democracy, we must accept its rules although we may have our own disgruntlements.
The Madhes-based parties look determined not to let the constitution be implemented, which is something not understandable. But the constitution is fully at work and we are only in the process of enriching it. Under this constitution two prime ministers were elected in which the Madhes-based parties also participated. So this is not the question of implementation of the constitution, but the question is how to enrich and further consolidate it. The Madhes-based parties have expressed reservation on certain provisions of the constitution. They have the right to dissent because the constitution itself has given them this right. It is also the duty of the Madhesi parties to defend this constitution instead of condemning it because it has institutionalised the achievements of several people's movements including the Madhes movement.
Sooner the better
There can be no excuse to hold the election. The local election has not been held for almost two decades. In the absence of local election and people's representatives, junior officials are running the local bodies. It has had negative impact on the development activities and service delivery in the local level. If the constitution amendment is the obstacle, all the political parties, including the opposition, need to find an amicable solution to create an election-friendly environment. If federalism and the issues related to federalism are the bone of contention, the local election can be held on the basis of the old structure. Election alone strengthens grassroots democracy. If local election is not held in June or July, it may not be held in 2017 because election for federal parliament will have to be held in November- December. Now we are running short of time. Political parties are, therefore, expected to settle the disputes and differences to facilitate early election.