Looming Political Crisis
The decision of the government to go for local polls in the second week of May is looking tough to implement. Although the country seems to be bracing for this upcoming election by transforming the local bodies structure into Gaunpalikas, municipalities and district councils as envisaged by the Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC), differing views among the political parties regarding their official position on local polls is aggravating the situation.
However, the government is reiterating that it will conduct elections at any cost, a promise that is difficult to believe given the law and order situation in some parts of the southern plains. In this scenario, the euphoria across the entire nation among people owing to the opportunity bestowed upon them to elect their representatives at the local level has received a setback of late owing to widening rift between various political forces.
Various discourses have emerged in the issue of local elections. While there was also a debate regarding whether to go for local polls without dismantling the existing local level structure or conduct elections of the new local bodies, it has fairly been settled at present. But the crux of the matter has been the issue of constitution amendment. The Madhes-based parties are demanding that the present constitution be amended first in their favour to ensure their proportional representation in state institutions based on the principle of inclusion and social justice before local election. Furthermore, they want to revisit the matter of provincial delineation. Arguing that without restructuring of the state based on the notion of right to self rule and autonomy, they have been critical of the government’s decision to go for polls.
The role of LLRC has also come under a great deal of criticism. Particularly its failure to determine the autonomous, special and protected areas as mentioned in the new constitution has become a matter of great distaste to the socially and economically marginalised and disadvantaged groups in the country. Likewise, the inability of LLRC to specifically lay out the geographical boundaries of the local level units has also been criticised.
In a rapid turnaround of events, the Nepali Congress (NC), the largest party in the legislature parliament, has vowed to expedite work for constitution amendment before the local poll, a decision which seems to be in favour of the Madhes-based parties. This has added woes to the government plan of handing over decision making power back to people at the ground.
The CPN-UML has repeatedly been in favour of polls, and it is in no mood to enter into any discussion and deliberation on the issue of constitution amendment. Considering the amendment row as a conspiracy move to thwart the political achievements made in the country so far, it has strongly opposed the notion of changing provisions of constitution to pacify the Madhesi leaders.
In a bid to settle this issue, the Government of Nepal increased the number of local bodies from 719 to 744 as per the demand of some Madhes-based parties. Particularly in the Terai dominant districts of Province 2, the number of local bodies has been increased, yet the election opposing forces are not ready to participate in the polls. Earlier, the government’s reluctance to receive the report of the LLRC on time also generated much suspicion about the genuine intention.
The incumbent government has also explicitly stated that it is ready to address the demands of the discontent Madhes through constitution amendment, but is asking the agitating Madhes-based forces to come into the election process.
Thus, the political crisis is intensifying in the nation. In fact, the polarisation of the mainstream political forces is exacerbating the transition in the country mired by violence and conflict. Coming out of this grave situation is getting tougher each passing day.
In order to address this crisis, firstly the government ought to bring the agitating forces to meaningful dialogue and make clear of the issues upon which negotiation can be forged. A clear official stance of the government should come in this direction.
Secondly, the major opposition force in the legislature parliament, the CPN-UML, also needs to be step out of its rhetorical stance of not allowing constitution amendment. As the second largest party of the nation, it is also its responsibility to bring the disgruntled political forces into the mainstream and ensure the successful implementation of the constitution.
Making the historic opportunity to promote local democracy and carve a path of development and prosperity in the nation rests on the success of local poll. With new representatives assuming their local administrative offices and working for the welfare of the area in which they live in, the bottom-up approach to development can also be practiced significantly. Needless to say, development initiations based on massive public participation at local level will be a boon to community development.