Second Phase Election Fraught With Challenges
Ritu Raj Subedi
The historic local election has kept the ball of grassroots democracy rolling. It has practically taken oodles of rights of Singha Durbar to the villages. These rights, guaranteed by the new constitution, are unlikely to be snatched by any force. Even if the central politics is bogged down by the incompatible position of key actors, the local democracy moves on because the local units have evolved into autonomous and independent entities. This is an indigenous initiative to have a true version of democracy based on historical, cultural and social reality of Nepali society. However, it also risks running aground on the rocky shoals of ethno-centric nationalism, parochial regionalism and ultra-leftist and rightist adventurism. The attempts to curtail some vital rights of local units through statute amendment proposal must have worried the champion of local democracy. No matter on whatever garb, the amendment bill has been pushed, it is sure to come a gutser in the House. Thus, at the moment, the local units won’t come under the constitutional threat despite the domestic and geopolitical elements active to strangle it before it really takes off.
On the pedestal
Following the success of first phase of local poll, caretaker Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda has been put on the pedestal. Of course, the PM is credited to conduct the election amidst daunting challenges. However, here is a sweet irony for him. The local poll was in abeyance for such a long time owing to several factors, mainly the entrenched political instability fueled by the Maoist insurgency. It brought unprecedented crisis to the parliamentary system. The Maoist leaders were smart enough to pit the parliamentary parties against each other. In their decisive fighting, they joined hands with the moderate left and democratic parties to consign the monarchy into the dustbin of history. The Nepali Congress that claims to be the true adherent to the parliamentary system has now become the bedfellow of the CPN-Maoist Centre in a bizarre twist of political developments. It is worth remembering that it is the NC that was mostly victimized by the Maoist movement. Prachanda, who led the ruthless insurgency, is basking in the success of the first phase of local polls held under his leadership.
Some analysts argue that he threw his party into the election campaign despite the fact that it would not fare well. Although his party bagged far fewer seats in the local units compared to the NC and CPN-UML, he is satisfied with it. This sense of sangfroid is commendable. He further tried to seize the moral high ground by tendering his resignation to implement the gentleman’s agreement reached with the ruling partner NC. Prachanda went on to argue that he stepped down as the PM to end the erosion of morality in the Nepalese politics. The opposition UML wanted Prachanda to continue his office until the second round of elections were held. But, the Maoist leader brushed aside UML’s exhortation and decided to pass the baton to the NC chief Sher Bahadur Deuba. The announcement was greeted by a ruckus of applause at home and abroad. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also joined the chorus to praise Prachanda to the skies on his political feat. Modi was tight-lipped about the historic poll but he broke the silence after Prachanda announced to quit the premiership. The euphoric mood must have soured when a leading Indian newspaper disclosed that PM Prachanda resigned in line with an agreement brokered by India. For many a critic, the high-sound of moral politics failed to stand up as the ruling parties have not refuted the claims of Indian media.
The nation has entered another phase of interregnum with the resignation of Prachanda ahead of second phase of local polls slated for June 14. The fate of the second round of poll hangs in the balance, especially in Province No 2, the core of Terai with a series of nasty political developments – the parliamentary proceedings have been repeatedly disrupted, the Election Commission refused to conduct the polls in the newly added 22 local units and the Supreme Court also quashed the government’s bid to create the new local units on constitutional ground. The straw that broke the camel’s neck was the announcement of fresh protests by the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJP-N) to thwart the election.
It would have been a real litmus test for PM Prachanda if he had successfully conducted the second phase of election. The current coalition came into existence with the sole aim of bringing the agitating Madhesi parties on board. The alliance has made several efforts in vain to cajole them into joining the poll. The constitution amendment bill is pending in the parliament for the lack of required number of lawmakers to get it endorsed. Main opposition is determined to scuttle the bill at any cost, terming it anti-nationalist.
Essence of democracy
The RJP-N, which formed with the merger of six agitating Madhes-based parties, has decided to organise torch and lathi (baton) rallies to browbeat the voters, rival parties and the Election Commission in their constituencies. It is set to padlock and picket election offices of municipalities and village councils on May 30 and enforce general strike in Madhes, Tharuwat and Limbuwan on June 1 and 2. As this announcement has also been seen to up the ante of RJP-N, two other Madhesi parties – Madhes Janaadhikar Forum–Loktantrik of Bijay Kumar Gachchhadar and Federal Socialist Forum of Upendra Yadav – are, however, bracing for the election. This is good news that these parties are ready to seek their mandate by going amid the people. After all, it is the people who seal the fate of parties and set the course for the nation. These two Madhesi strongmen seem to have grasped this essence of democratic politics.