Revitalising Democracy Through Election
Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
The announcement made by the government Monday to hold local elections on May 14, 2017, will go down in Nepal’s history as a momentous step towards empowering the local bodies left at the mercy of nominated bureaucrats for nineteen years. If implemented sincerely, it has the potential of stopping the country from drifting towards a constitutional void.
There are still plenty of obstacles and unforeseen pitfalls on the path of holding election on the announced date. But the compelling factor under which the announcement has been made affords very little space for wandering off course without grave consequences.
The announcement of the date for the local polls is the culmination of a prolonged political tussle between the ruling coalition and the opposition alliance. The political attrition had started over whether to give priority to holding three tiers of elections as mandated by the newly promulgated constitution or to introduce Constitution Amendment Bill as demanded by the Madhesi Front.
The government had to negotiate a circuitous path to come to the decision to hold the election because of its mistake in awarding priority to constitution amendment. Because of the time spent in fiddling with the idea of amending the constitution, the announcement of the polls date could be made giving just enough time to the Election Commission for managing the polls logistics. Still, it has come as a relief to the people, who were worried that the current political chaos might lead the country to an unmanageable constitutional crisis.
The bold decision of the ruling coalition to go for election carries the potential of putting the political process derailed after the registration of the Constitution Amendment Bill back on track. It also carries the possibility of bringing the ruling and opposition parties on the same page regarding the need for exploring an independent political course leaving no space for external forces to manipulate Nepal’s political transition.
The announcement of the election date has come at the end of multi-layered political dialogues between the ruling and opposition camps. It had not come as a bolt out of the blue and was logically the only option left open for letting political process take its course. At the present context of soured relation between the ruling and the opposition alliances, election could be the only area where contending political forces could find a shared platform for pursing their respective political agenda within the peaceful democratic framework.
The announcement has equipped Nepal’s political parties with a tool which has a miraculous power to fix ailing democratic institution by infusing fresh blood in the organisms of a state. Though it has come after wasting a lot of time in a futile exercise of appeasing the Madhes-centric forces and bringing all the stakeholders to Nepal’s transition on board, it has given Nepalese people an opportunity to exercise their franchise after a hiatus of nineteen years.
By bringing an irreconcilable issue of amendment of the constitution up for a contest, the enemies of Nepal’s democratic transformation had a design to consign Nepal’s political process on a trajectory of a prolonged transition marked by internal upheavals. Sticking to amendment of the constitution would pave the way for continued external interference and provide Madhes-centric forces a political agenda and a rallying point to keep a divisive politics alive. The announcement of the date of election has effectively put a stop to this never ending cycle of cynical politics.
The agenda of the constitutional amendment was not a logical step towards implementation of the constitution. The lesson from the first amendment of the constitution had amply proven that perfection of the constitution was not the objective of those who were resisting the new constitution. They were using it as a devious path to demolish entire achievements of Nepal’s democratic movement by introducing constitutional instability. The idea of constitution amendment echoed the interest of the external forces instead of reflecting the aspiration of the Nepalese people. Naturally, it could not move because its initiators had put the cart before the horse. With the announcement of the polls date, the wrong decision has been reversed.
The announcement of the election date has sent off a wave of optimism throughout the length and breadth of the country. Only a handful of cynical and parochial forces appear to be harbouring invidious feeling towards the possibility of local bodies having their elected representatives after such a long political vacuum. The unrelenting position of the Madhesi Front against building consensus only exposes their aversion towards accepting a democratic tool as a means to resolve differences and their disinclination to subordinate sectarian interests to the greater interest of the nation and the people.
Madhesi Front’s allegiance to democratic values and principles can be held into question when they refuse to reconcile with the reality and remain determined to hold the country captive to anarchy and perpetual instability. During the last election, they had failed to score respectable position from Terai which they boast of representing. Despite their being in the minority, they are intimidating larger political parties and are trying to bring them on their knees by holding out threat of blockade, armed insurgence and even cession.
The political agitation of the Madhes-centric forces is based on the agenda that divides communities and is reflected in their attitude to show themselves as the Messiahs of the people of Terai without undergoing the test of democratic election. The Nepalese people have not forgotten how they disowned the constitution and burnt its copies when it was promulgated. The inhuman, anti-national and outrageous act they perpetrated against the Nepalese people as collaborators of a foreign power is etched in the memory of the people, including the people of Terai.
The amendment process of the constitution could never untangle the present political complexity. It could be taken as a tool for correcting preset day political deviation for two reasons. One is, more than 50 per cent of the lawmakers who were personally involved in making the constitution do not feel it necessary to introduce any change in the constitution. Another reason is that the Madhesi Front is not ready to accept the result of the parliamentary voting on the amendment motion.
In this context, whatever the amount of good wish with which the Constitution Amendment Bill has been tabulated, it is not going to bring the Madhes-centric political forces within democratic process. The CPN (UML) has, therefore, rightly said that it could think of letting the amendment motion to be discussed and voted only if the Madhesi Front expresses its commitment to abide by the result of the parliamentary voting. If the Madhesi Front does not rethink its decision to hit the street in case the Constituent Amendment Bill is not endorsed, it is not necessary to entertain the Bill.
The local bodies have been devoid of elected representatives for the last nineteen years. The last elections for the local bodies were held in 1997. A whole generation has grown up without seeing a local election since. In this situation, the people cannot allow any political force, which has not acquired their mandate through popular votes, to ride roughshod over them.
Taking this into account, it is high time for all political actors including the parties in the Madhesi Front to stop all the absurd political games and embrace election. It is the only legitimate way to acquire fresh mandate and reinforce their political bastions.