Setting The Stage For Conducting Polls
After strenuous efforts and hectic negotiations, the government has been able to convince the Madhes-based parties to take part in the forthcoming local elections, which the latter had been threatening to disrupt by organising protest programmes, including general strikes, across the country.
As per the pact signed between the two parties on April 22 and endorsed by the government on April 23, the government will fulfill the demands of the Madhesi parties other than the demand for re-demarcation of provinces. The issue of citizenship will be as it is. Mother tongues spoken by various ethnic groups in the country will be mentioned in the schedule of the constitution. Local units will be increased on the basis of population. The federal government will have to consult and take consent from provincial assemblies to make a change to boundaries. As far as the issue of re-demarcation of provinces, the main bone of contention, is concerned, a separate federal commission will be formed and the provinces will be re-drawn on the basis of its report.
The points of agreement as encapsulated in the pact are not new. The government had been trying to persuade the Madhesi parties to participate in the polls by assuring them that all their demands except that for boundary re-delineation would be fulfilled. But at the time, the Madhesi parties did not accept the government’s proposal, arguing that all of their demands should be fulfilled at once. They had even announced protest programmes aimed at disrupting the polls, causing psychological pressure on the minds of the people. Just the other day, the people had to queue up in front of various service stations for fuel, fearing that there would be a shortage of fuel due to the announced protest programms across the country. In fact, the shortage was due to non-distribution of fuel to service stations by Nepal Oil Corporation on two holidays, Baisakh 01 and 02.
It may be recalled that the core points agreed upon now were there in the understanding reached between the government and the Madhesi parties the other day. The Madhesi parties had announced protest programms by disagreeing with the understanding. Now, they have acquiesced to what is incorporated in the understanding. This shows that the Madhesi parties are not firm of purpose; they are always vacillating. Anyway, they have shown their prudence by accepting the proposal of the government.
Recently, six Madhesi parties merged into a new party called Rastriya Janata Party. What is conspicuous in the name is that there is no such word as Madhes in the terminology. In the past, the six Madhesi parties were identified with the Madhes-Terai region and considered as such. In other words, they were regarded as regional forces trying to promote the interests of the Madhesi people rather than all the people of the country. By merging under a new name, they have tried to show that they are no longer regional parties.
These two developments-agreeing to take part in the forthcoming polls and merging under a new name aimed at showing that they are national, not sub-national parties- are positive signs, the former ensuring that the polls will definitely take place and the latter apparently keeping the Madheis parties away from regional politics by adopting mainstream politics. But whether they are earnest about shedding regional politics as in the past is in the womb of time.
Nepal is a small country. The Terai is just one of its parts. The political parties should represent not only one region but all regions. The Madhesi parties had been crying hoarse that the Madhesi people had been subjected to exploitation at the hands of the rulers. But they could not win the hearts of the Madhesi people by playing with their sentiments. The Madhesi people have now realised that their leaders are trying to promote their self-interests by playing upon their heart-strings.
That is why, even when the Madhesi parties had decided to disrupt the polls under the pretext that their demands had not been fulfilled by the government, the Madhesi people were ready to go for the polls. Now, the situation has taken a turnaround and the Madhesi people have decided to take part in the polls not as parties representing the Terai-Madhes region, but perhaps the mountainous, hilly and Terai regions.
At a time when it has been indispensable to end the political transition by holding the local polls as part of implementing the constitution, the previous decision of the Madhesi parties to boycott them was injudicious. Now it must have dawned on them that boycotting the polls will not bring any solution to the political cul-de-sac. Rather, it will be prudent on the part of any political party to go for the polls. Those parties that intend to boycott or disrupt the polls may be taken in bad light by the people.
Viewed thus, the decision of the Madhesi parties to go for the polls should be taken on a positive note. However, the government and the Madhesi parties have also agreed to hold the polls in two phases: one on the announced date of May 14 and the other one month later on June 14. It is surprising why the polls were decided to be held in two phases when the Election Commission is all set to hold them on the same day.
Anyway, the polls which were facing uncertainty when the going was getting tough due to the protest programmes announced by the Madhesi parties are certain to take place in a peaceful environment. The Madhesi parties have also called off their protest programmes. But they have put forward the endorsement of the revised constitution amendment bill as a precondition for taking part in the polls. After the polls, the government should announce the dates for the provincial and federal elections. After the completion of these three tiers of elections, the republican setup, which has been mired in the quagmire of transition, can be institutionalised, recognising the contributions of the people to introducing the republican dispensation in the country.