Polls Amidst Polemics
The first phase local poll is less than two weeks away. The party-nominated candidates have filed their nomination Tuesday which ensures that the first phase election slated for May 14 is almost irreversible.
However, the country's politics has further worsened and become muddier. The constitution amendment bill presented in the Parliament on behalf of the government for the second time is in the doldrums. Furthermore, the impeachment motion registered against incumbent Chief Justice Sushila Karki has further polarised the politics. The political parties are sharply divided over it. Even Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bimalendra Nidhi from the Nepali Congress has resigned while a major and strategic coalition partner RPP (Nepal) has dissociated it from the government.
However, despite the volatile politics the certainty with which preparation for the first phase local polls is completed augurs well for the implementation of the constitution. Once local politics organises well and stabilises through democratic elections, the high politics in Kathmandu shall have less impact on the country's onward journey for democracy and development.
In fact, local democracy is the only hope that can be courted and counted on for prosperity and development in the country. In several countries in the world where local democracy is stable and functional, the instability in the high politics of the state does not concern and matter much to the people. However, in Nepal the foul partisan politics has not allowed local democracy take a shape. The attempts to institutionalise local democracy and provide a stable form and shape to it has been always disturbed and jeopardised due to one or the other political wrangling. However, this time the constitutional security given to local democracy will not permit for any kind of intriguing attempts and designs to throttle it and destroy its vitality after they are settled in their respective locus and position.
Obviously, no less meaning and significance was placed on and attached to Local Self-Governance Act, 1999 that created two-tier system of local government. The Act recognised local bodies as institutions for self-governance. The Decentralisation Implementation Monitoring Committee (DIMC) was also formed which was a high level oversight and strategic guidance mechanism headed by the prime minister. But unfortunately, the committee failed to deliver as per its mandate and expectations. The Act introduced the concept of revenue sharing between the centre and local bodies. Moreover, it guaranteed royalty from the development projects implemented within the area of the local units. It separated powers between the deliberative and executive organs of local bodies.
The executive committees were named by committee and the deliberative body named by council. The Act reserved 20 per cent seats to women and disadvantaged groups at the
village and town council. Taking cue from the provision of the Act, the present constitution of Nepal has reserved 40 per cent seats for women at the local level. During the post-1990 democratic era, election to the local body was held twice only following the democratic change in 1990. The first local poll was held in 1992 and the second was held in 1997. Like the national parliamentary polls, the last two local body polls were held according to First Past the Post System – one of the important variants of the majoritarian model. In this model, a candidate need not garner the majority votes to get elected. He or she can be declared elected by securing the largest number of votes among the contestants in the polls.
However, it is sad to note that the important LSGA provisions remained ineffective in promoting local governance system for the last several years due to, among others, the political instability resulted from the Maoists insurgency and conflict that overwhelmed the country for over a decade. No local election was held since 1997. Even when the situation gradually became normal and the rebel groups mainstreamed themselves as part of the ruling dispensation, local election was never an agenda of priority for the political parties.
The absence of the accountability relationship between the citizens and the local institutions created a huge democratic deficit at the local level. Local governance and development process has been badly affected for long due to the absence of democratically elected mechanism at the local. The interim statute 2007 had given a sound and important vision for the strong and autonomous local bodies as self-governing and functional units at the grassroots. The interim constitution had mentioned that the local bodies shall be formed at the district, town and village level with the concurrence and participation of the political parties which were active and keep meaning both at the local and national politics.
The most important aspect of the interim constitution has been its explicit commitment to the adoption of federal polity with equal emphasis on autonomous local government. The constitution of Nepal has upheld this vision of the interim constitution and accorded an important place to local level governments.
Undoubtedly, federalism is usually accompanied by decentralised government. In fact, the constitution embraces both federalism and local government as a process of taking central power down to the people without placing them in contradistinction to each other. Federalism cannot be said as a necessary condition for decentralisation and the vice versa. But federalism alone can not be said to reach and deliver the fruits of democracy out to the people. It is because of this reason that the constitution of Nepal enacted by the Constituent Assembly provides major space for the local government.
But the actual effect of it would be established only when it is really implemented through democratic elections. The local elections scheduled for May 14 sets a stage and heralds a new era for consolidation of local democracy as an embodiment of the aspirations of the people. No polemics and tussles at the higher politics should prejudice the process of the elections as this will amount to the sheer betrayal of the people.