Fate Of Polls Hanging In Balance?
The Madhesi Front has done what many of us feared the most: it has called a nation-wide protest and general strike solely targeting to disrupt the local election in the Terai region. The decision of the Madhesi Front not to take part in the May 14 election and to call protest and strikes to disrupt the polls have now raised a big question mark on the holding of an all-participated local election, though some leaders of the ruling coalition and the opposition have vowed to hold elections on the stipulated date.
The Madhes-centric parties have reiterated that the government and major parties must first amend the constitution as per their demand if they want the Madhes-based parties to take part in the local polls. The Front that earlier appeared to have somewhat agreed to participate in the elections after the government had decided to replace the Statute Amendment Bill with new bill has made an about turn, stating that the new bill which replaced the first one is more regressive and anti-Madhes. The government and the Prime Minister had stated that the new bill replacing the old one was tabled with the consent from the Madhesi parties.
These conflicting remarks from the responsible political leaders have raised suspicion regarding the Madhesi parties' ability to take firm decision on the important matters. Despite engaging in long parleys with the government and major political parties and exhibiting the sign of reaching an agreement on the local polls, the eleventh-hour turn-around from the Madhesi parties suggests that they cannot take decision on their own and keep vacillating. Some suspects the feeble nature of the Madhesi leaders is due to the fact that they have a tendency to receive suggestions and guidance from outside, which is why they keep on changing their demands and postures every now and then.
Many in the nation criticised Madhesi leaders for being a pawn in the hand of foreign powers that do not want stability and prosperity in our nation. Even the Madhesi people and intellectuals have frequently criticised the Madhesi leaders for their fickle stance on the constitutional amendment. These Madhesi people too have suspected the real motives of these leaders regarding their posture on the polls.
Another reason for the Madhesi boycott and protest over polls is the fear of losing it. Many of the Madhesi leaders and their parties will lose if they contest the elections in the Terai areas because they do not have vote-base. Barring a few places of the Terai region, the representatives of the Madhesi parties that have now boycotted the elections would lose elections. It is this fear that has compelled the Madhesi parties to boycott the local polls. The current Madhes-centric parties have lost the 2013 elections held for the Constituent Assembly. There are only 40 parliamentarians that represent various parties that have formed the Madhesi Front, which reflect that these parties have lacked a strong vote-base in the Terai region.
After the Madhesi decision to boycott and disrupt the local polls in the Terai region, the fate of the local elections now hangs in balance. The reports from the security organs state that local elections in the Terai would be quite difficult to organise without participation of all sides, including all Madhesi parties, in the polls. The boycott and disruptive tactics of the Madhesi parties will pose a highly precarious situation for the polls while it would also worsen the law and order situation in the most part of the Terai.
A recent midnight tweet from Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bimlendra Nidhi, in which he stated that preparations from the Election Commission and security arrangement to hold the polls are not sufficient, has deepened the confusion over the local polls. In his tweet, Nidhi suggested that political settlements through dialogues among the parties are a must for successful elections. The tweet from DPM Nidhi, a senior Nepali Congress leader of the Madhesi origin, actually has raised questions over the local polls across the nation, in the wake of the Madhesi protests and their disruptive tactics.
The Madhesi threats notwithstanding, the environment for the polls in the country has already built up. Political parties, including major and minor, independent candidates, and voters have already been engrossed in the poll preparations across the nation. The names of the local candidates vying for different positions in the Metropolis, sub-metropolis, municipalities and village municipal councils are being floated and the parties and others are giving shapes to the list of the candidates for the elections.
It is however feared that the Madhesi protest is likely to throw cold water in the poll environment that has built in 744 local units across the nation. Because of this fear, some have suggested that the polls could be held in phase-wise manner, in spite of the Front's boycott and warning to disrupt the election in Terai. The Front cannot have its impact on the polls in hills and mountains where the polls could be held in largely peaceful manner. The government can deploy security organs to quell the likely disturbances in some parts of the Terai during poll time. It is said that barring a few districts of the Terai, the government can hold polls in other parts of the region by deploying security personnel. However, many say that the local elections in the southern plains could not be held successfully without the Front's participation. The presence of security personnel may not yield positive results if the people fear to visit the polling booths fearing the political forces which have decided to boycott or disrupt the election.
In spite of lacking strong vote base in the Terai, these parties can still engage in disruptive acts that may cause the failure of the polls. With the fear of Madhesi disruption, parties have mulled to postpone the polls for a few days until a quick dialogue with the Madhesi to address their grudges is held. But the deferral of the polls, even for a few days, may jeopardise the whole polls.
No one denies the necessity of the local polls that must be held at its stipulated date. Even if the need to postpone the polls arises, a week long deferral may be taken into account. The local polls, which are being held after a gap of almost two decades, must be held to set the tone for other remaining two-tier of elections by the third week of January 2018. The government has only nine months for holding the elections for provincial and central parliaments, which must be conducted according to the constitution. The major parties must put a united stance to hold polls and should not shirk their responsibility owing to the fear of the Madhesi parties' disruptive acts. They must hold it, no matter which measures they should adopt to make the polls a success to enable the local units to have people's representatives after a long hiatus.