Take Madhesi Parties On Board
After weeks of tug of war over the fate of the constitution amendment bill between the ruling and the Madhes-based parties, the government announced the date of the local election on February 20. According to the announcement, the local polls will be held on May 14. Days before the announcement of the poll date, the Election Commission had started preparations for the local polls upon the instruction of the government. The EC has already made the election schedule public while it has also enforced the ‘Local Level Election Code of Conduct 2073’ from March 1.
Similarly, the major political parties have started launching several political activities and campaigns targeting the scheduled polls. The main opposition party, the CPN-UML, launched its Mechi-Mahakali National Campaign and postponed it for three days owing to the Saptari incident in which three people were killed in police action on Monday. However, the UML resumed the campaign from Makwanpur on Friday. Similarly, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, which has announced a similar campaign, has put off its programme after the Saptari killing. The three people were killed when the cadres of the United Democratic Madhesi Front tried to disrupt the mass meeting of the CPN-UML. By now the death toll has increased to four.
The ruling Nepali Congress and the CPN-Maoist Centre are also busy devising poll strategies. These activities show that the country is accelerating towards the local elections, which are taking place in 20 years. But it is not the absolute truth, only a half reality.
The United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) of the seven Madhes-based parties and the Federal Alliance, a grouping of the UDMF constituents and some Janajati forces, are not happy with the announcement of the poll date before the endorsement of the constitution amendment bill. Although endorsing a revised constitution amendment bill from the parliament before the election announcement was the bottom line of the Madhes-based parties, they had sought at least a firm assurance from the two major ruling parties that the amendment proposal would be passed after the local polls, if it is not possible before the elections. However, the government declared the polls on the backing of the ruling parties and the main opposition bloc without taking the regional forces into confidence. Thus, the UDMF leaders have realised that the top leaders of the ruling NC and the Maoist Centre failed to keep their promises they had made during the formation of the current government in August last year. NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba and Maoist Centre chairman and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda then had signed a three-point agreement with the UDMF, with assurances that they would address the Madhesis’ major concerns, including the revision of the federal boundaries, through a second amendment to the constitution at the earliest. But six months after the formation of the current government, the fate of the statute amendment is still uncertain. This has further disappointed and frustrated the Madhesi parties.
The current coalition government is the third after the election of the second Constituent Assembly. The Madhesi forces had thought of it as their most favourable government after the demise of the first CA for they had played a major role in forming it. Furthermore, Prachanda and Deuba had time and again publicly stated that the sole mission of the government was to meet the demands of the Madhesi parties through constitution amendment and then implement the constitution by holding the three-tier elections. But when the government declared the election date without the Madhesi leaders’ consent, the UDMF leaders have felt cheated.
The Madhes-based parties are, in principle, not against the polls. As democratic parties they believe in the mandate of the people. However, it is quite difficult for them to embrace the forthcoming local elections because the Madhesi leaders had promised revising some provisions of the constitution through an amendment and creating a second plain province in the west of the Terai plains, among other pledges to their constituents. Believing once again in such pledges of the Madhesi parties, that had lost all credibility due to their persistent lust for power during the first CA, the Madhesi people came to the streets and staged a movement following the promulgation of the constitution. During the third Madhes movement that lasted for five months, scores of people died, hundreds were fatally injured and dozens of cadres from those parties are still languishing behind bars on charges of committing violent activities. The Madhesi parties were continuously up in arms and voicing their concerns even before the Saptari incident after which they have already taken to the streets. As such, they are unlikely to go to the polls until their demands are met.
The Madhesi, Tharu and Janajati forces have a lot of reservations about the current constitution. In comparison to this, their plea to endorse the current amendment bill, consisting of four of their dozen concerns, is perhaps not a big deal for the major political parties. The regional parties were harbouring a desire for going to the local polls once the amendment issue was concluded, besides joining the next government to be formed under Deuba’s leadership as per the gentleman’s agreement reached between the NC and the Maoist Centre.
But the major parties’ decision to go for polls unilaterally not only has shattered the hopes of the Madhesi leaders but also angered a larger section the Madhesi community. On the one hand, the Madhes-based parties and their political followers are furious with the major parties. On the other, most of the Madhesi and Tharu folks are disgruntled with the major parties as they came to know that whenever the regional constituents put forth their demands, the dominating major parties come together to oppose their voices. That is why most of the southern plains have opposed the idea of local elections.
Instead of taking the disgruntled forces on board for the elections, the UML launched its Mechi-Mahakali campaign along the Terai districts, which has erupted new tension in the Terai, especially after the Saptari incident. The workers and followers of the Madhesi Front welcomed the campaign with violent clashes at several places of their stronghold, with Saptari becoming the most fatal. The clashes and killings have further deteriorated the volatile situation of the plains. As a result, the UML decided to skip Province 2 and has resumed its programme to the west from Hetauda. The campaign is likely to face protests from the supporters of the Madhesi and Tharu parties in western Terai. If the Madhes-based parties take a firm stance to foil the elections and even a small section of the Madhesi society backs the plan, conducting elections in the Terai will be challenging.
Talks are the key
Holding elections is not like promulgating and declaring the constitution from the capital. To execute all poll-related works, the state apparatuses will have to go to the grassroots and face not only the cadres of the Madhesi parties, but also the dissenting people, too. That is why, if the government and the major parties want to carry out the elections peacefully on the stipulated date, they have no option but to take the regional parties on board. To this end, the ruling side must hold talks with the agitating forces and give them credible assurance that their demands will be fulfilled through constitution amendment if they take part in the local elections.