Local Election A Reality Now!

Narayan Upadhyay

 

After weeks of parleys and a marathon cabinet meeting on Monday, the government finally announced that the nation would hold local level elections on May 14 (Baishak 31, 2047 B.S.), this year. The Pushpa Kamal Dahal led coalition government was under a huge pressure to announce the date as it had been coerced to do so by the main opposition and, had lately been urged by the main coalition partner – the Nepali Congress.

 

Now, the ongoing dispute on whether the government and parties should first go for endorsing the statute amendment bill or announcing the poll date is over, albeit for a brief moment. From the perspective of a layman, it would be prudent for all parties, including the Madhesi parties, to work towards smoothing the path for the election, which has been long due. In between they can also hold parleys and discussions for gaining concrete results on the statute amendment bill too.

 

The government, it appears, has been tied down by its constitutional responsibility to announce the date of the local elections, which would pave the way for the central and provincial level elections which must be held by the third week of January 2018 according to the new constitution.

 

The government's announcement has addressed its constitutional responsibility. The decision would also satisfy the main opposition party, the CPN-UML that has asked the ruling parties to first announce the poll date before it goes for supporting the government and Madhesi Front sponsored crucial constitutional amendment bill tabled at the Parliament.

 

Hard pressed

The two major coalition partners, the Maoist (Centre) and the NC, were caught in the row between the main opposition and the Madhesi Front. These two parties apparently have their opposing agenda regarding the amendment bill and the elections. While the UML has termed the amendment bill anti-national and is dead against endorsing it, the Madhesi parties had asked the ruling parties to first amend the constitution before announcing the date of any election.

 

It seems that the idea of holding elections has won over the ruling coalition partners for the time being. They came up with the local poll date with a hope the main opposition would support them in endorsing the amendment bill, which needs the support of the UML for the gaining the required two-thirds vote for the bill to become a law. As the UML has welcomed the poll announcement, it is now hoped that it would show crucial support to the government regarding the amendment bill.

 

The announcement, however, has sent shockwaves among the Madhesi Front, a group of seven Madhes centric parties. Terming the announcement a political betrayal, the shell-shocked Front has announced a month long protest in the Terai districts, including general strike. If the Front continues to express its reluctance to the government decision and stick to its disruptive protests, it may well create disturbances even during the time of polls, which unequivocally would put a big question mark behind the idea of holding the polls without taking the Front into confidence.

 

Over the past few months, the government and the Prime Minister Dahal were under tremendous pressure regarding the two most pressing issues- the amendment bill and the announcement of the poll dates. Both the main opposition and the Madhesi Front had failed to come to a point where it would be easier for the government to take decision on these two issues.

 

Owing to the UML's dissatisfaction, the amendment bill has gathered dust in the Parliament because there is a fear that the bill would fail to achieve the required two-thirds vote in the absence of the UML support. The ruling parties were also under pressures from their own party members.  Because these members have told their party top brass that the bill would prove detrimental to the party interests. Many parliamentarians of the Maoist (Centre) and the Nepali Congress representing the districts of the Province No 5 have voiced concerns that the party would suffer losses if the hill districts of this province is split from the Terai districts because the voters had disliked the very idea of splitting the province.

 

With the simultaneous announcement of the poll date by the government and the announcement of protest by the Madhesi Front, which has thrown its weight to the Dahal's government, all eyes now are on the ruling coalition parties regarding how it would tackle dissatisfaction of the Front.

 

Many in the nation fear that the local polls may not happen in its declared date because of the Madhesi dissatisfaction, which seems to be a valid apprehension given the clout the Madhesi parties exert in several Terai districts. The government and the main opposition, therefore, need to allay the Madehsi fear that the Madhesi parties would be left in lurch. The main opposition should also pay attention to the Madhesi grudges and try to come to negations so that there would be a win-win situation for both of them.  At present, it seems that fear among the Madhesis is rife that the three major parties, the two ruling and the main opposition, would try to dictate the terms by sidelining them as they had done while endorsing the new constitution with around 90 per cent of the then Constituent Assembly vote.

 

Despite all existing controversies, one should not forget the local election, which has not been held for about 18 years now, has become indispensable to bring the vibrancy to the local level of governance. The local units of the governance such as Village Development Committees and Muncipalities of all levels, have suffered in the absences of the people's representatives, which has blocked development works and people's voices.

 

Measuring rod

It is expected that the local election, on the other hand, would be a true measuring rod for the popularity of the parties and leaders. It can also be regarded a dress rehearsal for the next elections to be held for the provincial and the central level government. The voters’ likes, dislikes and judgment on the performances of the political parties and leaders can be inferred from their preferences expressed through the ballots. The ones who create troubles to elections can only be punished by the voters through their democratic exercise of electing their representatives. We have plenty of such instances during the second elections to the CA and the newly announced local election would be no different.

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