2nd Phase Of Local Poll People Dump Extremist Forces
Ritu Raj Subedi
Nepal's grassroots democracy has made great strides with the conclusion of local level elections held in six provinces out of seven. While the election has proved to be a milestone in consolidating the democratic federal republic, it has sent a set of clear messages to the political forces. First and foremost, the people have reposed their faith in Lokatantra, peace, stability and development. They have demonstrated their democratic convictions through the enthusiastic participation in the elections. This is a good sign for the fledgling republic in the aftermath of historic constitution promulgated in 2015. The three-tier of elections - local, provincial and federal - hold the key to implementing the constitution. The roaring success of first electoral cycle has set an optimistic tone for conducting the remaining two elections that must be held by the first month of 2018.
Fear of bogeyman ripped
Secondly, it has shattered the fear of bogeyman generated by some Madhes-based parties that have been harping on the impossibility of elections if they stayed out of it. Province No 1 contains some core parts of Madhes where the poll was a huge success with around 70 per cent voter turnout. It effectively debunked the myth of gruesome violence, which some self-claimed Madhesi intellectuals had claimed to occur during the election. These pseudo highbrows have been instigating agitating Madhesi parties into foiling the election. Barring a few cases of violent incidents, the election was, by and large, peaceful. Guns and bombs fell silent as the people defied the threats of extremist forces of different shades. In many places, they braved heavy downpours and scorching heat, and went to polling booths to exercise their voting rights.
Thirdly, the people have rejected the extremist political ideology - be it in the form of ethnic chauvinism of Madhes-based parties or the ultra-left one pursued by Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal. Rastriya Janata Party (RJP), a merger of six Madhes-based parties, and the Biplav-led group were hell-bent on foiling the election at all cost but all their disruptive ventures fell on the stony ground. The coalition government had chickened out of holding the second phase of local polls in Province No 2 just because of the threat and bluster of RJP. But, it turned out to be an illusionary apprehension. For example, the Madhesi voters enthusiastically cast their ballots in village councils in Sunsari, which the security agencies had categorized into highly sensitive places. In addition to some Wards of Inaruwa Municipality, four Village Councils - Harinagara, Dewanjung, Koshi and Bhokraha - recorded over 70 per cent of voter turnout. Prior to the poll, a sense of trepidation had run high there. The RJP was supposed to run amok in the polling booths. To the satisfaction of many, the election was peaceful and smooth thanks to the people's broad participation and adequate security arrangements.
Contrary to the RJP leaders' warning of bloodshed in Terai during the election, their cadres fielded their candidacy independently in Kapilvastu and Rupandehi. This showed that RJP local leaders are for picking their representatives on their own. It has been demanding that the government amend the constitution and increase the number of local units. But, at the moment both their demands are unlikely to be met. The ruling parties do not command two-thirds of lawmakers in the parliament as main opposition CPN-UML is firm on voting down the amendment proposal, terming it anti-nationalist and divisive. With regard to creating new local units, the Apex Court had already issued an interim order against the government's decision to raise the number of local units some time ago.
Against this backdrop, the RJP had no option but to take part in the election. Realising the impossibility of getting their demands met at present, Socialist Federal Forum, led by Upendra Yadav, chose to join the poll. For him, electoral battle is equally important to cling on to the political life, so he dismissed the RJP leaders for letting this opportunity slip through their hands. In the hindsight, it can be said that the government should have held polls in Province No 2 but it simply got cold feet. With the election, the people have also endorsed provincial boundaries. Fiddling with the demarcation issue does not only undermine the people's mandate but also triggers conflicts between the federal units. Thus, the RJP leaders are not expected to be none the wiser any more.
The poll also rendered the Biplav-led Maoist outfit irrelevant. It took recourse to violent tactics to shoo the voters from the polling booths only to be boomeranged on itself. In Dhangadhi, one of its cadres was killed when a bomb he was carrying went off. The death of its worker presages the fatal decline of the rump Maoist faction. The masses have now no stomach for another round of violent movement based on the obsolete utopian ideas. The Maoist movement has already been tested and rejected in Nepal. The election has already sealed the fate of parent CPN-Maoist Centre, pushing it into the distant third. For Biplav, it is almost next to impossible to reverse the tide in favour of the ultra-radical drive.
A two-party system evolving
Fourthly, the local poll has given a strong signal that the nation is heading towards a two-party system. In the first phase of the local poll, the main opposition emerged the largest force. The preliminary outcomes of second phase of local polls have also put UML ahead of the NC with the Maoist Centre straggling behind them. The UML and NC have been at the centre of politics since the advent of multiparty democracy in 1990 except for a brief period when the MC took the country by storm through both means – the barrel of the gun as well as the ballots. After passing through a series of splits, the MC has lost the ideological compass and massive public support. Now it is becoming ancillary to these main parties, acting as a playmaker sometimes and a spoilsport at other.