Local Polls And Emerging Developments

 

Uttam Maharjan

The date for local polls is approaching fast, but political consensus, which is a must for the smooth conducting of the polls, is still wobbly. The fate of the polls is such that sometimes it seems to be certain for the polls to take place, while at other times its seems out of the question to hold the polls. This is due to the need for persuading the Madhes-based parties to take part in the polls.

Recently, a revised constitution amendment bill was presented to Parliament by the ruling coalition and Madhesi parties. But the main opposition party, the CPN-UML, has vehemently opposed it. The party has been reiterating that it will never favour the amendment to the constitution in favour of the Madhesi parties, terming it anti-national.

Horse trading

A two-thirds majority is required to endorse the amendment bill, which is clearly lacking. It is crystal clear that sans support from the CPN-UML, the required majority cannot be garnered; not but what, the ruling coalition is trying to garner the majority even without the CPN-UML’s support. How can this be possible? There is suspicion that some parliamentarians from the CPN-UML may shift allegiance and vote for the bill for money. Horse trading is not new in Nepalese politics. In the past, too, there were several instances of horse trading due to political disaffection.

Since the announcement of the polls, several developments have emerged in the political arena. Initially, the polls were planned to be held in a single phase on May 31. To please the disgruntled Madhesi parties, it has been proposed to hold the polls in two phases: on May 31 and June 31. The Election Commission is ready to hold the polls in a single phase but has not objected to the two-phase elections. In the meantime, the government has revealed its intension to unveil the budget for the next fiscal year on May 29.

There are arguments regarding the counting of votes and unveiling of the budget. Some argue that votes cast in the May 14 elections should not be counted before the next phase of elections. Similarly, the budget should not be unveiled in between the polls. These may affect the second-phase elections and the results may be tilted in favour of the ruling coalition. The Election Commission also claims that unveiling the budget ahead of the second-phase elections will violate the code of conduct. Earlier, it had expressed its view that it would not affect the June 14 elections.

On the other hand, the Madhesi parties are still in a belligerent mood. If the amendment bill is not endorsed by Parliament, they will go for agitation. Earlier, they had announced protest programmes, including general strikes, across the country but called them off after getting assurances from the government that their demands would be fulfilled. As per the assurances, the revised amendment bill has been put to Parliament. But the crux of the problem for the ruling coalition is how to convince the CPN-UML to back the bill, or how to garner a two-thirds majority in case the CPN-UML cannot be persuaded.

In the meantime, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party has quit the government over the impeachment motion against Chief Justice Sushial Karki. This has also put the government in a tight spot, making garnering the two-thirds majority even more difficult.

All these goings-on in the political circuit are not a good omen at a time when all the political forces should have been active in conducting the polls. The elections to the local bodies were last held two decades ago, and failure to conduct the polls since 2059 has crippled the local bodies, which have since been run by government employees.   

As the tenure of the Legislature-Parliament ends in January 2018, and there is compulsion to conduct the local, provincial and federal elections by that time, the local polls should not be postponed at any cost. But the recent political developments have cast a pall of doubt on the conducting of the polls by the said deadline.

The political imbroglio has surfaced due mainly to the revised amendment bill. The government’s attempt at increasing local units in some districts has also drawn flak from the CPN-UML and other quarters. It is not judicious to revise the local structure after the date for the polls has been declared. There is something fishy in conducting the polls in two phases when the Election Commission is all set to conduct them in one phase.

Whether the polls will be held on the said date is now up in the air. If the revised amendment bill is endorsed in favour of the Madhesi parties, they will take part in the polls. What if the bill is foiled, which is likely given that the ruling coalition lacks an adequate number of parliamentarians to endorse the bill with a two-thirds majority? Given the stand taken by the Madhesi parties since before the promulgation of the constitution, they will, for sure, disrupt the polls if the bill is defeated in the Parliament.

Imbroglio

The environment for the polls now seems to depend on the outcome of the endorsement of the revised amendment bill. If the imbroglio cannot be resolved soon, the polls may have to be deferred. But the time available for conducting the three tiers of elections is running fast. If the polls are deferred, it will affect the provincial and federal polls as well, which will, in turn, affect the implementation of the constitution.

Therefore, all the political forces should show flexibility so that the upcoming polls are conducted by the said deadline. Further, it will be prudent to conduct the polls at one go instead of in two phases. This will also pave the way for unveiling the budget for the fiscal year 2074/75 on May 29.  

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