Local Level Election Confidence And Suspicions

 

 

 

Narayan Upadhyay

 

With the Election Commission in full swing to hold May 14 local elections, it appears that the local polls have become a reality now. There are reasons to feel buoyed: after updating the voters' list, the EC has undertaken the most grueling of task of printing modern, scam-free voter identity cards for about 14 million voters who would be casting ballots in 744 local units across the nation.

 

The EC said that it would complete the printing of the voter identity cards within ten days. The EC has also undertaken the task of printing ballot papers and readying ballot boxes, apart from selecting returning officers, security officers and other manpower to hold vote-casting smoothly at every voting station across the nation.

 

The EC is running against time to complete its preparation for the local polls which the nation would be organising after a hiatus of 20 years. The government too is extending its budgetary, logistical, security and other required supports to enable the EC to hold the "long-awaited" elections in the stipulated time.

 

The mood for elections in the district has gained momentum lately. The political parties are now engaged in preparing election manifestoes and process of selecting the names of prospective candidates for various posts in the elections at different metropolis, sub-metropolis, municipalities, and village councils and so on. In short, the atmosphere for the local elections has built up as party workers and hopeful candidates are doing their best to win the backing of the party leadership to contest in the local polls.

 

However, suspicion whether the local level elections would be held in the scheduled date has persisted to haunt the Nepali political sphere. The new demands forwarded by the United Democratic Madhesi Front have cast some shadow over local polls. Many perceive the new Madhesi demands as a ploy to defer the polls.

 

The two major ruling parties- the Nepali Congress and Maoist (Centre) have forwarded a formula to bring the agitating Madhesi parties on the election board. According to the formula, the government would put on hold the highly contentious issue of redrawing of provinces, which is the major demand of the Madhesi parties, but would address all other issues as proposed in the statute amendment bill.

 

Initially, the Madhesi Front has accepted this formula and appeared to have agreed to take part in the elections. But as the day of election is getting near, the Front has come up with other demands- to fix the number of local units in Terai on the basis of population, and to include about one hundred thousand voters of Terai, who, according to the Front leaders, were left out during the voter list updating process. These two demands, which have been put forth after the poll date was announced in February 23, cannot be addressed at present. If the government opts to address these two issues, then it would be impossible to hold the elections on the scheduled date.

 

Lately, parties like the Naya Shakti raised the issue of distribution of poll symbols of their choices to them. Leaders and workers of the Naya Shakti and few others tried to picket the EC office building only to invite intervention from the security personnel to quell the protest.  Here, we should not miss the point that the actions of the Madhesi Front and the parties seeking election symbols for their parties will certainly create troubles for the polls.

 

We know that Madhesi Front and the Naya Shakti are the parties that detested the announcement of the local polls. From the time of the poll announcement, these two political forces are engaged in acts to undermine the essentiality of the local polls.

 

The coalition partners of the government- the Maoist (Centre), the Nepali Congress and the RPP have, however, vowed to hold the polls at any cost. The two major parties- the Maoists and the NC have quite painstakingly convinced main opposition CPN-UML to give up its stand against the statute amendment bill, so that the "trouble-maker" Madhesi parties could be brought to participate in the local polls. The UML has come to accept the government urges just because the elections have to be held in time successfully, which is the UML's demand at present.

 

But, with the pressure from the Madhesi Front mounting, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal proposed to hold the elections in phase-wise manner, which the NC turned down. The major government ally wanted the polls to be organised in the same day- May 14, across the nation because if the date is deferred, then the polls would not take place before the month of November, which would certainly spell another trouble for the ruling parties. According to the clauses of the constitution, the government has to hold the three-tier elections by January 18, 2018. If the local polls are deferred now, the government may not be able to hold other two elections for provincial and central government in time, which may render the constitution a failure.

 

It seems that the Madhesi Front is quite happy to putting off the local elections, for which they have been coming up with new demands every now and then. They seem to have forgotten the importance of the people's representatives at the local level. The representatives at the local units are essential for expediting local development projects through the participation of the local people and their representatives. Without their representatives at the local level of governance, the local people have lost their voices, which has given rise to their difficulties and other problems.

 

The parties threatening to boycott or disrupt the local polls have another fear: they feel that they would not be successful in receiving the people's mandate and thus would be exposed in the elections. Many Madhesh centric parties fear going into polls because they are not strong enough to win the people's mandate as much as they have been boasting during their pre-poll political rallies and programmes. Surprisingly, the parties like Nepali Congress, UML, the Maoist (Centre) are more eager to contest elections throughout the country including the Terai region, which the Madhes parties regard as their own bastion.

 

Clearly, the Madhesi and few other parties have been found negating the rules of the games. They have been putting forth one after another demands with a view to defer the polls for which so much of preparations have already been made. At this crucial juncture, the ruling coalition partners and the main opposition party must not quiver or give in to the forces that have threatened to disrupt or boycott local polls. On the other hand, these parties should continue to engage in actions to bring the agitating parties on board. But, should these parties continue to dither to take part in the polls, then the major parties and pro-poll parties should not give in to their pressure tactics, but opt to hold elections, by beefing up security at the political hotspots of the Terai. The Local polls have become essential to set the tone for other two elections, which the nation must hold to give respect to the constitution.

 

The poll, on the other hand, is required to gauge the people's likes and dislikes for the parties and their leaders. The mandate of the people is crucial for the present day politics, which has been mired in several controversies, instability and deadlock.

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