Holding Local Polls Still A Challenge
After repeated amendment in the poll date, the second phase of local level election in Province 1, 5 and 7 has been scheduled for June 28. Nevertheless, the environment is still not conducive with the RJP-N, a constituent of the Federal Alliance, one of the major Madhes-based parties opting to refrain from the entire election process. Not only it has decided to boycott the polls but also to thwart the state’s initiatives of conducting poll on the slated date. Its activities ranging from padlocking election offices, organising torch rally at district headquarters to imposing indefinite general strike culminated in the postponement of election of Province for September 8.
Appealing people not to participate in the election which is against the spirit of democracy, the disgruntled Madhes-based forces have put forward the demand of constitution amendment and addition of constituencies at the local level. While the Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda-led government had decided to increase the number as per their demands, the Supreme Court issued an interim order in this case asking the government not to move ahead with this decision.
Again the timing of the election has become a matter of serious concern. With the onset of monsoon and agriculture hectic season round the corner, it is difficult to ascertain whether the voters turn out will be as overwhelming as in the first round. Since majority of the villagers have to work laboriously in the field to grow crops which is the only source of livelihood in many households, the chances of not attending the election could be high owing to the busy agriculture chores. Worse, incessant rainfall might reduce the attendance of people at election constituencies.
Although the opposing forces have every right to present demands to the state, it is unwise on their part to ignore poll. Instead of taking this election as an opportunity to boost the development activities in the local areas, the preferred option of these parties has received great deal of criticism. Doubts over the intention of the Madhes-based leaders to adhere to the democratic norms and values are increasing. Critics say that with diminishing vote bank in Madhes, these parties are reluctant to go to poll.
The onus is now on the newly elected Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government to successfully complete the second round of polls. With the incumbent Prachanda-led government’s election management relatively efficient, there is an uphill task ahead of the new government for the next round. Furthermore, the Chitwan incident of manhandling ballot papers has sparked great suspicion over the transparency in vote counts in the near future. With Prime Minister Deuba trying to pacify the discontented Madhesi leaders, it is still being hoped that they will at least call off a common protest. But looking at their declared programmes, it is difficult to believe that they will be ready to participate in the poll even in September.
Obviously, amending the constitution will be major challenge. Without the support of CPN-UML, it is really difficult for the government to pass the amendment. Furthermore, enormous responsibility of holding the provincial and central elections within next seven months is looking pretty tough.
With the issue of the provincial delineation still a bone of contention among the ruling parties and the Federal Alliance, the path towards conducting the poll at the state level is arduous. Given the poor track record of the new prime minister to deliver, the general public does not have faith that the country could resolve the elongating transitional politics under his leadership. Nonetheless, things can change for the better if Prime Minister Deuba, learning from his past failures, come out with a smart plan and implementing actions to turn the dream of the poll into a reality.
Taking all the forces into confidence will be key to the long term continuity of the new government. Forging consensus with all parties on issues of public welfare, the government needs to figure out a meaningful way of engaging all the political forces into the ongoing Madhes discourse which has huge repercussions for the institutionalisation of federalism in Nepal. In other words, the crisis of federalism looms large with the issues of demarcation of boundaries still unsettled.
Mainstreaming the genuine voices of the Madhes will be important because Madhes represents a large population of the entire country. Without understanding their pathos, it will be difficult to embark on a federal restructuring for Nepal.
Perhaps, the election results of the second round of polls will also offer some guidance as to the sentiments of the local voters- the parties they believe can be their true agents to liberate them from the shackles of domination.