Local Polls & Strengthening Of Democracy

Uttam Maharjan

The government has, at long last, announced the date for the local polls. The polls are scheduled to be held on May 14, 2017. It may not be reiterated that the local polls have been in abeyance for many years. The local polls were last held in 2054 BS. Since the tenure of the people’s representatives ended in 2059 BS, the local bodies have been managed by government employees.

Although elections to the local bodies have been announced by the government and the major parties, the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Maoist Centre, have decided to go for the polls by initiating effective campaigns, he Madhesi parties have vigorously opposed the polls. They are still demanding that the constitution amendment bill, which has been kicking about in Parliament for months, be endorsed first.

Tough proposition

It is a tough proposition to endorse the constitution amendment bill, whose endorsement requires a two-thirds majority. As a result, the government is dragging its feet over putting the bill to a vote. But the Madhesi parties have been insisting on the bill being endorsed by Parliament.

It may be recalled that when the present coalition government was formed some months ago, Maoist strongman Pushpa Kamal Dahal assured the Madhesi parties that the government would amend some provisions of the constitution. With this assurance, the Madhesi parties helped form the present government. Now, the Madhesi parties are so miffed with the government that they have not only decided to boycott the local polls but also threatened to disrupt the polls.

One thing that needs to be kept in mind is that the Oli-led government collapsed due to its reluctance to meet the demand of the Madhesi parties that the constitution be amended and the present government emerged on condition that the demand would be fulfilled. If the present government is to hold the local polls without amending the constitution, there was no point in ousting the Oli-led government. This does not, however, mean that the constitution must be amended before going for the polls.

The Madhesi parties are not, however, in the mood to withdraw support from the government so as to put it in the soup. They have, however, decided to stage protest programs aimed at disrupting the polls.

On the other hand, the Madhesi people are in favour of the polls. They have realided that their leaders have done nothing concrete towards uplifting their socio-economic status. The Madhesi leaders have been in the government many times. They could have worked for the benefit of the Madhesi people. But they are concerned about how to reach the high echelons of the government such as through provision for naturalised citizens allowed to reach the echelons.

The Madhesi parties are also keen on creating one or two provinces in the entire Terai belt. It would be pertinent to note that the Terai is a granary of Nepal and rich in natural resources. The Madhesi parties have a malicious intention of separating the Terai from the hilly region. Viewed thus, the demands of the Madhesi parties, which they want to fulfil through an amendment to the constitution, are not genuine. Fulfilling such demands may complicate and jeopardize the state affairs.

Now, as the polls have been announced, it would be prudent for the Madhesi parties to support the polls rather than go against them. The local bodies have suffered a lot due to their operation through a bureaucratic mechanism. Needless to reiterate, the local bodies should be operated by people’s representatives at the local level as they are hail-fellow-well-met with the local conditions, which enables them to solve the local problems and embark upon development works effectively.

Once the local bodies were operated through a political mechanism. But this resulted in corruption and other irregularities to a great extent. As such, the mechanism was scrapped. No such mechanism has since been in operation.

One of the hallmarks of democracy is elections. Periodic elections would reinforce democracy. All the more when it comes to the local bodies. Leaving the local bodies sans people’s representatives for years is not a bagatelle. As such, the announcement of the local polls has not only pleased the government and the major parties but also the general people, including the Madhesi people. They are enraptured by the fact that the local bodies will get people’s representatives familiar with the local problems and conditions, which will accelerate local development in great measure.

Further, the announcement of the elections to the local bodies has also set the stage for conducting elections to the provincial and federal governments. It is evident that without completion of the three-tier elections, the republican setup cannot be institutionalised. The republican setup is the upshot of the sacrifices many people made during the People’s Movement of 2006. We cannot afford to derecognise the contributions of the people to the establishment of a federal republic in Nepal. So it is more than necessary to institutionalise the federal setup, for which the three-tier elections are a sine qua non. And the local polls constitute the first step towards institutionalising the republican setup.

Popular support

All should, therefore, give a helping hand towards making the local polls a success. Although the Madhesi parties have warned of disrupting the local polls, the massive popular support, including that from the Madhesi people, will definitely foil their despicable attempt at disrupting the polls. It would be of benefit to the Madhesi parties to take part in the polls rather than disrupt them. After all, the polls would strengthen democracy and pave the way for ending the longstanding transition in the country.

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