All Eyes On Local Elections
If the ongoing preparations undertaken by the government and the Election Commission (EC) are any indication, the May 14 local elections appear to be a certainty. The government has extended all its necessary logistical and budgetary supports to the EC which is undertaking the preparation for holding the local polls after a gap of almost 19 years on "war-footing."
The task of holding elections across the nation on the stipulated date seems to be easier for the EC this time than before because the number of local units have been fixed to 744. According to new set up, the nation will have four metropolises, 13 sub-metropolises, 246 municipal councils, 481 village councils and 6,680 wards in place of 3,157 VDCs and 217 municipalities that came into existence after the restoration of democracy in 1990.
As the nation has become a federal state having many provinces, the redrawing of the local units has certainly brought cheers for those who wanted to see elected representatives at their local units. While accepting the final report from the Local Body Restructuring Commission, the Prime Minister praised the commission for executing its works of fixing local units throughout the nation in due course. The fixing of the local units according to the requirement of federalism, is an important achievement, especially at a time when political instability has become the order of the day. After the presentation of the final report on the number of local units, the recommendations made in the report have been implemented throughout the nation. The prompt implementation of the LBRC report will help in organising the elections throughout the nation.
Given the government's avowal, it seems that the elections would be held in time, though there are some elements that are dissatisfied with the idea of local elections. The government's move to hold elections has been further bolstered after the newly unified Rastriya Prajatantra Party joined the government recently. The chairman of the RPP, Kamal Thapa, while joining the government, said that his party had joined the government in order to ensure the implementation of the constitution and the holding of local elections. But he has had his reservations over the statute amendment bill. He has warned that he would walk out of the government if his party was pushed to endorse the amendment bill.
In the meantime, Madhesi leader Bijay Gachhaddar, leader of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Loktantrik) too is mulling to join the government any time soon, which would furher consolidate the government's position in the Parliament. Since RPP with its 37 parliamentarians and Loktantrik with its 14 lawmakers would be extending their crucial supports to the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government, it seems that the threat from the Madhesi Morcha to withdraw its support to the government would not put the government at the risk of losing simple majority in the House.
The Morcha has been coercing the ruling parties of the Maoist Centre and the Nepali Congress to first amend the bill tabled at the House before proceeding towards the elections. The Morcha has warned that its constituent parties would not take part in the local elections if the bill wasn't endorsed with the required majority. The Morcha also threatened that it would withdraw its support to the government in case the bill was not endorsed. Now, the government must have felt relieved after the RPP has become a part of it and after the MJF (Loktantrik) getting ready to join the government. Now the Dahal led government can work towards holding the elections in the stipulated timeframe.
Though the government and the EC are bracing up to hold elections, there are many who suspect the elections would be held in time. The concern regarding the dissatisfaction of the Madhesi Morcha and recent incidents that occurred in some places of the Terai region have raised fears whether the elections would be held. They suspect that the deepening differences between the main opposition- the UML and the Madhesi Morcha may lead to the deferral of the elections, if not the scrapping of it as per the demand of the Morcha and few other parties.
The dissatisfied lots like the Madhesi Morcha and parties like CPN-Maoist and Netra Bikram Chand Biplav-led faction may engage in acts to disrupt the elections. Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai too has expressed is dissatisfaction over the May 14 local elections. He has supported the Madhesi Morcha's demand of amending the statute bill first. This indicates that there are certain elements that have not welcomed the idea of holding the elections and this polarisation may affect the elections one way or other.
Despite suspicion and fear over the elections stemming from these dissatisfied lots, no one can decry the importance of the elections at this crucial juncture. The local elections would be a litmus test for the parties and leaders. The win or loss for the parties in the local elections may not hamper parties in the central or provincial level but it would surely indicate the popularity of these parties and leaders.
It is generally said that the parties that have stuck to the nationalist agendas at the present time may get larger support from the people. But no one can say for sure about the people's choice during the elections. Any event can impact the choices of the electorate.
The local elections will certainly set the tone for other two important polls- the elections for the federal provinces and the central government. A hassle-free local election would pave the path for the holding of the other two important elections. Therefore the local elections, which will ensure the people's representatives at the local level after a hiatus of 19 long years, must be held at any cost.
The May 14 elections would test the real worth of the present day political parties and leaders apart from paving the path of the two bigger elections for which the nation is in a great want. All the political parties, leaders and stakeholders must not think of deferring or scrapping the elections but should rather help the government and the EC in preparing all ground works to hold this important poll in a free, fair and peaceful manner.