For Free And Fair Local Election

 

Yuba Nath Lamsal

With the announcement of the local election, political uncertainty has come to an end.  Given the complications in the national political landscape for varied reasons, uncertainty over early local election had loomed large in the Nepalese political landscape. Now the uncertainty is cleared and unless some foreseeable circumstances take place, the much-waited local election will be held simultaneously throughout the country on May 14, 2017.

There has not been election for the local bodies for almost two decades. The last local election in Nepal had been held in 1997. In the absence of the elected people's representatives, civil servants have been manning and running the local bodies. The local bodies are the foundation of democratic structure and democracy cannot be institutionalised without practicing it in all levels. In such a case, good governance is out of question and the concept of local self-governance has remained only in papers.

Fundamental spirit

Holding parliamentary elections alone does not guarantee the democratic exercise. In the absence of local elections, people's rights to choose their representatives has been denied, which is against the fundamental spirit of democracy. Local election is a must and there should not be any attempt from any quarters to delay or disrupt the rights of people to choose their representatives.

Now election for the local bodies has been announced. The Election Commission is working on war footing to conduct the election in a free, fair, peaceful and credible manner. The Election Commission had earlier sought at least 120 days for the preparation, but the EC got only 82 days for the job of holding the election. Still, the EC is prepared to hold the election within this short available time, and accordingly is making all preparatory works on war a footing.

Periodic elections are the basic prerequisite and tenets of democratic polity. But election for the sake of holding election is not sufficient. The election should be free, fair and impartial through which the people exercise their franchise without any kind of fear, pressure and influence. However, not all elections are democratic and free. Democratic elections must maintain certain universally accepted standards and norms. If these international standards and norms are not met, the entire purpose of holding election will be defeated. Even some authoritarian regimes hold elections, but such elections are only to deceive their own people as well as the international community. These elections are held in such a way that the candidates and parties do not win the election, but they are declared winner. Such elections are engineered, rigged and manipulated in which the outcome is predetermined. The election in Iraq during Saddam Hussein regime can be taken as examples how dictators often hoodwink the international community in the name holding election. In the elections, Saddam Hussein's Baathist Party used to be declared winner with more than 95 per cent votes. This was nothing, but farce in the name of election.

We have a long tradition of holding elections. We have independent and competent Election Commission with the sole responsibility of holding different elections. The Election Commission existed even during the Panchayat era and it conducted several elections during the Panchayat era, but the Panchayat era elections used to be held on individual basis. Multi-party democracy was restored in 1990, and the practice of holding democratic elections started.

Since the multi-party democracy was restored in 1990 three parliamentary elections, two local elections and two Constituent Assembly elections were held on multi-party basis. Until 2008, only the 'first past the post' (FPP) or majoritarian electoral system was in practice in Nepal. Partial proportionate representation (PR) electoral system was introduced in Nepal only after the country entered into republican era.  Now we have mixed electoral system consisting of both FPP and PR systems.

The election for the local bodies is being held first time after the promulgation of the new constitution. This is also the first election to be held in the new structure. The earlier elections were held in the old structures created more than a half century ago. The Constitution has transformed Nepal from a unitary state to the federal one. The country was, accordingly, federated into seven provinces.  As per the provision of the new constitution, a high-level and powerful panel was mandated to redraw the local bodies, which has already submitted its report recommending the government to create 719 local bodies including village councils, municipalities, sub-metropolitan cities and a metropolitan city. But it is not yet finalised as the government is still studying the report as some Madhes-based parties are opposed to the propositions of the report.

The Madhes-based parties are opposed to the local election. They are demanding amendment to the constitution before holding the local election.  Citizens and the political parties definitely have rights to express their reservation, disgruntlement and dissent over political and other issues. The constitution has given them the right to dissent in a peaceful and democratic manner. But attempts to block the constitutional and democratic practice under any pretext may not be justified. Election is a democratic process, which by no means should be blocked and disrupted.

If the political parties have reservation on certain provision of the constitution or on any other political issues, they can put forth clearly with the people, who are the ultimate arbiter of any dispute and issue. If their issues are genuine and justified, people will definitely vote for them and with popular vote they can pursue for the change in the constitution or enact laws to address their concerns and demands. Election is the best opportunity to reach out to the people and get popular support for the cause, policies and programmes of the parties, from which none should refrain.

 In a way, the local election is a part of enforcing and enriching the constitution as well as institutionalising democracy at the grassroots level. In the election, people will elect more than 35,000 representatives, who are expected to man and run the local bodies in an accountable and responsible manner. Election makes the political system representative, accountable and responsible. If there are any issues and disputes on any subjects, they can be resolved in a democratic and constitutional manner, for which all the political parties must act in a responsible manner.

Responsibility of parties

So far as the demands and concerns of the Madhesi parties are concerned, attempts should be made to address them as far as practicable. The ruling parties have already demonstrated their willingness to address the demands of Madhesi parties, for which a bill for the amendment in the constitution has already been tabled in the parliament. Now the opposition CPN-UML and Madhesi parties are expected to exhibit reciprocity and flexibility to create atmosphere conducive for election. It is the responsibility of all to ensure free, fair and peaceful election. What is to be taken into serious note is the fact that in the absence of positive role and cooperation from all stakeholders,  effort of the government and the Election Commission alone will not be sufficient.

 

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