Conducting Polls Amid Protests
The political landscape of Nepal is perhaps unpredictable. What is likely to happen does not happen. What is going in the positive direction swirls around all of a sudden and turns into something negative. The political leaders frequently talk about something almost reaching consensus, but it takes no time for the consensus to cave in. Perhaps, the phrase ‘back to square one’ is applicable to our politics most of the times.
The other day, the government and the Madhesi parties reached an understanding according to which a revised constitution amendment bill would be supported by the opposition parties, including the CPN-UML, and a powerful political commission would be formed to settle the disputed boundary issue. This sent ripples of euphoria across the nation. The government also registered the revised constitution amendment bill in the Parliament. But the Madhesi parties changed their tune and insisted on their previous stand that they would boycott, nay, disrupt, the local polls unless their demands were met. Thus, the feeling of euphoria generated by the understanding and the registration in Parliament of the revised constitution amendment bill turned out to be a nine days’ wonder.
The Madhes-based parties have now announced protest programmes, including general strikes across the country a la their foiled border-centric agitation. Their main demands include re-delineation of provincial boundaries and representation of constituencies on the basis of population. The government is ready to fulfill all their demands except the re-drawing of provinces. They want a single province in the entire Terai region at the cost of the mountainous and hilly regions.
The present coalition government came to power in August 2016 with support from, inter alia, the Madhesi parties on condition that the demands of the Madhesi parties would be fulfilled. But the main opposition party, the CPN-UML, has been diametrically opposed to their demands. As the ruling coalition lacks a clear two-thirds majority to fulfill the demands of the Madhesi parties, the government is in the soup.
The local polls have already been declared. Electoral preparations are going on in full swing. Even the hustings have got off the ground. There is now no backtracking from the polls. The polls hold historic significance as they are being held after a hiatus of two decades. The people, including the Madhesi people, are in favour of the polls. However, the Madhesi parties are hell-bent on disrupting the polls at any cost.
In the meantime, 68 fringe parties under the leadership of Naya Shakti Nepal are staging protests. They are demanding that they be allowed to contest the polls with their respective party symbols. The government has made a decision that only those candidates whose parties are represented in Parliament are allowed to contest the polls with party symbols.
The agendas of the Madhesi parties and the 68 fringe parties are different. But the Madhesi parties are trying to take advantage of the situation. They have proposed supporting each other morally in their respective protest programmes.
The Nepali Congress, a partner in the ruling coalition, has come up with a proposal of holding the polls in two phases if the Madhesi parties commit themselves that they will take part in the polls. The proposal has come in view of the volatile situation in some parts of the country, especially in Province No. 2. The proposal is not, however, viable. Deferring the polls in some parts of the country will make it difficult to set the stage for the provincial and federal elections which should be held by January of 2018. The Nepali Congress is of the view that if the polls are held without bringing aboard the agitating Madhesi parties, the situation will be counterproductive. So in order to ensure their participation in the polls, the polls can be held in two phases.
The tenure of the current Legislature-Parliament runs till January of 2018. If the three-tier elections cannot be held within this date, there may crop up constitutional and legal complications. So there is compulsion to hold the polls by the deadline of May 14, 2017.
The Prime Minister has, however, said that he will try to persuade the Madhesi parties to take part in the polls till the last minute. Several rounds of negotiations have been held between the government and the Madhesi parties. They also rumble forth that they have almost reached consensus, but that consensus goes bust the very next day. As there is less than one month for the polls to take place, there must be some kind of consensus between the government and the Madhesi parties so that the polls can be conducted like clockwork.
One of the prerequisites for the smooth conducting of the polls is security. The people have the right to exercise their franchise in an environment devoid of security threats. They do not want to cast their ballots when any insecurity is perceived. The disruptive- and perhaps even subversive-protest programmes launched by the Madhesi parties may psych out the people, thus depriving them of their right to cast votes. The scheduled polls cannot be retracted at this juncture and the Madhesi parties are determined not to let the polls take place without having their demands fulfilled. In such a situation, both the government and the Madhesi parties should show a maximum of flexibility and come to some kind of consensus.
After all, the narcissistic demands of the Madhesi parties should not create a setback in the exercise of the constitutional rights of the people. Nor should they play spoilsport in fulfilling the first step in implementing the constitution, which will pave the way for institutionalising the republican setup achieved through the sacrifice of so many people.