Phase-wise Poll Is A Ploy
Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
The proposal of Prime Minister Puspa Kamal Dahal Prachanda to hold election in two phases can be a dangerous move to deflect the country from the path of election. Expectedly, it has met with opposition from not only the opposition parties but also from CPN (MC)’s coalition partner, the Nepali Congress. The categorical ‘no’ from Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba to Prachanda’s proposal for holding elections in the Terai provinces in the second phase points towards a rugged terrain lying ahead for the ruling coalition.
At a time when the country has already swung into election campaign despite so little time for logistical preparations, the Prime Minister’s proposal to hold election in two stages is likely to make the election process more chaotic and unmanageable. Among other things, this proposal carries unmistakable signals of the flagging determination of the ruling coalition to hold election on the announced date.
The declaration of election date for May 14 has triggered an unprecedented wave of optimism in the cross sections of the Nepalese society. All the people aware of and committed to democratic values, have taken this as a chance tossed upon them by history to play their role in accomplishing the implementation of the constitution. In such a situation, any action or expression that is likely to dampen people’s expectation is bound to be met with resistance.
In the face of it, the proposal for holding local elections in two phases sounds innocuous, especially when its proponent says that he has no other intention behind it than a genuine wish to bring the Madhesi Front on board so that the election will be more inclusive. But it will be naive not to see through the design of the Madhes-centric parties to keep mainstream political forces in a state of disarray by constantly changing their demands and shifting goal post.
The ruling coalition should be aware of the fact that the demand for organising election in phases, if it needs to be held at all, is a ruse resorted to by the Madhes-centric forces which have not accepted the very constitution and are even less likely to accept the election scheduled to be held as part of its implementation.
In fact the Madhes-centric forces do not want election at all. They know very well that if it does take place it will only expose how a prolonged unpopular and parochial posture they have taken has eroded their power base making their ideological make-believe stand in tatters. They want to preserve their threadbare political existence with a futile attempt to block the fresh breeze of democratic changes from blowing across the southern plains. For them, the demand for phase-wise election is but an alternative foothold to dig their heels after being swept off their feet by a popular wave of democratic change.
The Madhes-centric parties have demanded so many things and have been conveniently ignored so often by the mainstream political parties that the demands they have made regarding local elections are also not meant to be seriously heard and addressed.
In the beginning they burnt down the copy of the constitution when it was promulgated. Despite this, the constitution entered the phase of implementation. After being presented with a fait accompli, they started to demand for its amendment. The legislative parliament introduced and endorsed the first amendment addressing their demand for proportional representation based on the population and streamlining the process of acquiring Nepali citizenship for foreign women marrying Nepali men. Instead of being satisfied with it, they rejected the amendment saying that it was insufficient.
The Madhes-centric parties then started to kick up a fuss with a fresh demand that the border of the provinces and local bodies should be delineated first before the country can go to the election in total disregard for the constitutional requirement to hold three tiers of election by 21 January 2018. The government formed Local Body Restructuring Commission (LBRC) which designated 744 local bodies and delineated their borders. The Madhes-centric forces again refused to accept the decision of the commission and demanded that the election of the local bodies could be held only after the restructuring of the provincial borders takes place.
All the people with a modicum of discernment know that the Madhes-centric forces are belting one demand after another as a tactic to obstruct the implementation process of the constitution so that it becomes a dead letter when three tiers of elections cannot be held within deadline. As the scheduled date of election draws nearer, they have now started to say that the number of the local bodies in Terai should be increased and that the name about 100,000 voters supposedly left out in the process of updating voters’ list should be included in the electoral rolls if the government expects them to participate in the election.
Their demands are such that if they are addressed, the election dates should be postponed for until November. That would be tantamount to going against the spirit of the constitution paving the way for its failure and opening the floodgate of instability.
The proposal for holding election in phases has also raised the question in the originality of thought of our Prime Minister. So far, he was constantly heard saying that holding elections at the three echelons of political bodies was indispensable to implement the constitution. His proposal for contemplating election in two phases can only be explained in terms of an echo of the voice of the Madhesh-centric forces using a vocal medium of the head of the government. The Prime Minister would have done well if he had properly assessed the implications of the political proposals before owning and advocating for them.
The idea of holding election in two phases is clearly fraught with severe consequences howsoever pleasant it may sound and the inclusive intention it may be loaded with. The scheduled elections for local bodies are being held in a very tight time schedule. If the local elections are not organised on a single day as scheduled, there will not be sufficient time left for the Election Commission to complete the logistical and procedural details required for holding the second phase election before the rainy season. The process of holding national and provincial elections cannot be completed unless the process is started immediately after the accomplishment of the local polls.
Similarly, the idea of holding election in two phases is also an imprudent act of incurring a huge additional economic liability on the already attenuated state fund. A cash strapped country like Nepal cannot indulge in the extravagance of holding elections twice when the Election Commission is confident about holding election on a single day.
Last nail on coffin
It takes no genius to understand that the proposal for holding election in two phases is a ploy not a necessity. If the elections are held in two phases excluding the Terai provinces which fall in the most politically volatile region, from the first phase, they will remain outside the security surveillance during the first phase of election.
The Madhes-centric parties will surely escalate anti-election campaign in these regions taking advantage of the absence of security mechanism. They will then use the violence and chaos as a pretext to rule out the remaining elections at the local, provincial and national level driving the last nail on the coffin of the constitution.