Early Indications Of Local Polls
After the successful completion of the first round of the local elections in three provinces, the entire nation is looking forward to the polls results. While news of the elected mayor, deputy mayor, ward chairman and ward members, among others, is coming from various districts, the vote counting process has remained rather sluggish. Owing to this, the Election Commission (EC) is being criticised for its inability to fix this problem.
Similarly, the EC has already come under the scanner for introducing a complicated ballot paper in the polls, often leading to an increase in the number of invalid votes. In fact, even in the cities like Kathmandu and Lalitpur, an overwhelming number of such votes have been counted. Nevertheless, with 73 per cent voter turnout in this election, slightly less than that of the election of the Constituent Assembly, the EC should be credited for managing the elections in a peaceful manner across the 34 districts, although a few cases of violence and other disturbances were observed.
If the preliminary voting trend is anything to go by, it is evident that there is high presence of the mainstream political parties, particularly the CPN-UML and NC, in the election constituencies. The Maoist Centre has so far received a severe setback with the poll results not going in its favour. Similarly, the RPP has also faltered in garnering public votes, for which it has publicly admitted it would reassess its party’s activities and functioning.
What is interesting to note here is that despite the general public fury under a normal situation for the poor service delivery, lack of transparency and accountability, and corruption, the people still prefer these same parties to be their elected representatives and run the local government. It is either the hope that the mainstream parties can promote local development or a sign that people still prefer the status quo and are happy to extract benefit from the existing socio-economic and political structure.
Having said that, some of the recent postures of the political parties seem to have backfired on them during the local elections. For instance, the impeachment motion lodged against the Chief Justice by the coalition government of the NC and Maoist Centre deterred a large section of the traditional voters of these parties and helped the CPN-UML to win.
Meanwhile, the alliance politics during the polls hasn’t yielded any fruitful results so far across various districts. One popular NC-Maoist collaboration in Bharatpur to make the PM’s daughter its mayor has so far received a cold response from the voters. With her UML rival leading by a huge number of votes in the district, it is now unlikely that this alliance will bear any fruit.
Performance of alternative forces
One of the striking features of the election results in the big metropolises like Kathmandu and Lalitpur has been the ability of the newly established political parties to garner a significant number of votes with limited local organisational strength and public outreach. Going by the preliminary results of Kathmandu’s mayoral race, Bibeksheel and Sajha parties have been receiving a considerable number of votes, currently occupying third and fourth positions.
Leaving the established parties like the Maoist Centre and RPP behind, their performance can be analyzed as an inherent desire of the general public to see change in the leadership style and also a belief in the transformation of the society through transparency, meritocracy, accountability and integrity. In other words, the agony of the public towards the mainstream political establishments and a desire for dynamic society have become evident.
Having said that, there is still a lack of trust among the general people that the new political forces can significantly change the course of the nation. There is no guarantee for them that these forces will not get involved in petty politics and rise above partisan interests. Since there is a long way ahead of these parties to prove themselves, they can gradually build on the success achieved in this election and capitalise for the better in the upcoming provincial and national polls.
With the same conventional parties occupying the driver’s seat in the local government, it is difficult to believe that they can usher in systematic reforms at the grassroots level. Based on the nature of the politics that they are doing and the values that they practice, there is no positive sign that they will definitely serve their wards and towns with honesty.
Nevertheless, the scrapping of the all-party mechanisms at the local level after the election should help to institutionalise grassroots democracy to some extent. Chances of embezzlement of public funds will also go down with increased public scrutiny.
The onus now is on the people to make things happen at the local level. With a more powerful local government with a separate legislative and judicial structure on the ground, it is time to mull over utilising local resources by increasing social accountability.