Local Poll Manifestoes Enhancing Social Accountability
Amidst all reluctances and uncertainty, the major political parties have been willy-nilly dragged to enter the local polls fray scheduled to be conducted on May 14. On the one hand, the threat of the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) to boycott and disrupt the polls has jittered the elections stakeholders and actors, organisational disarray and shabby preparedness have further added worries to the major competing parties about the unpredictable turns and swings of its outcomes and results on the other.
The political parties have clear stakes in the impending local polls. This is because of the fact that its outcome will not only test their popularity and acceptability among the voters but also help discern the pulse and mood of the electors especially to presage and predict the trend of the voting tendencies and patterns in the upcoming provincial and federal level elections that have to be conducted within January next year. Some of the political parties are thus gradually and hesitatingly inclined to jump into local electoral bandwagon. Accordingly, they have initiated discussion as to how to formulate and issue their manifesto for the local elections.
In the last local elections held more or less two decades ago, the political parties had formulated and issued the respective general manifestoes indicating their position and promises with special reference to local governance and development. This was obvious and natural for the centralised unitary context of Nepal. In those days uniformity, not diversity was the defining political norm and practice.
But today the context is paradigmatically different. The country has already braced for federal polity with seven provinces and 744 local government units that have already been delineated, formalised and brought into existence. The political parties have to address and reckon with the multi-layered federal governance system keeping in view the diversity and local specificity into account. This makes it a necessity that the parties go for the decentralised process of reorganisation and readjustment allowing greater role and importance to the sub-national apparatuses and institutions taking the diversity and specificity into account. This also demands and entails that the parties should also go for orientating and empowering the local chapters, especially the district level committees to work on the LG-specific poll manifestoes to ensure that the promises and pledges made in the local level elections are in consonance with local interests and aspirations.
Needless to say, the election manifestoes represent a charter of goals that the political parties will strive to achieve if voted into power. Adoption of a system of local manifestoes will be both exciting as a tool of political participation and accountability. On the one hand, this localisation process can create an opportunity for the electorate to take part directly in the preparation of manifestoes, and paying greater attention to their needs and voices. This is indeed a marked departure from a process in the past where a group of leaders would discuss and determine the content of the party manifesto.
In fact, localisation of poll manifestoes can make its contents more relevant, contextual and help increase the level of accountability of the elected leaders. The voters may have greater attachment with concerns and stakes on the local manifestoes than the national one. If articulated properly, this system of local manifestoes can also help make elections more issue-based at a level where local issues are more relevant. It could also help improve the transmission and communication of political messages from the politicians to voters and vice versa. The local poll manifestoes give the elected representatives a clear charter to try and implement, rather than to be a passive responder to powerful local interest groups.
In this process, the political parties seek and respond to every constituency’s preference. Whether it is the manifestoes for the local polls or provincial and federal polls, it is generally agreed that they have to follow some norms and principles. In this context, the case of India can be cited. The Supreme Court of India has brought the election manifestoes under the model code of conduct and laid down guidelines for the formulation and preparations of election manifestoes. According to the Indian Supreme Court Guidelines, the election manifesto should not contain anything contradicting to the ideals and principles enshrined in the constitution.
In fact, the political parties should avoid making loose and empty promises which are likely to vitiate purity of the election process or exert undue influence on the voters in exercising their franchise. In the interest of transparency and credibility of the promises made for the polls, the manifestoes should reflect the rationale for the promises and broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial and other requirements for it. Trust of voters should be sought only on those promises which are possible to be fulfilled, attained and materialised. In fact, manifestoes have to be readable documents. They have to help the political campaign project an easily communicable message to the voters in the community. To ensure this is maintained, the process of picking what to promise will become more selective, relevant and appropriate once the reasons for the promises also have to be included in the manifestoes.
In the upcoming local level elections, rosy, unattainable and unrealistic promises should be shunned as it will take constitutively a longer time for the local government units to take both institutional and organisational shape before they start functioning and delivering to the local communities.
Moreover, the local level governments, according to the present constitutional arrangement, have to acquire greater technical, organisational and financial clout and capacity that need realistic calculation and analysis to establish as to what could be delivered at the local level. It is anticipated that the political parties take this context into account when they start formulating their manifestoes for the local level elections.