Heated exchanges with Madhesi leaders
KATHMANDU, Feb 19: Rounds of talks held by the government with the political parties and the Election Commission on Sunday for setting a date for local elections could not make any headway, with the agitating Madhesi alliance continuing to refuse to go for polls without first amending the constitution.
Those involved in the talks said the government is likely to announce a poll date in a couple of days after addressing some of the demands raised by the Madhesi leaders.
Previously, party leaders close to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and the Election Commission (EC) had claimed that the poll date would be announced on Sunday.
With a view to announcing a poll date, Dahal on Sunday held separate discussions with leaders of ruling coalition partner Nepali Congress (NC), leaders of the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) that supports the present government, and the election commissioners.
Things, however, hit a snag after the Madhesi leaders stuck to their stance. "Madhesi leaders have been insisting on finalizing the constitution amendment bill before announcing the poll date. Since it will take time to amend the constitution, efforts are underway to announce a poll date first and then settle the constitution issue," said CPN (Maoist Center) leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha.
In view of the Madhesi demand, Prime Minister Dahal is for revising the report of the Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC) to increase the number of local units. The changes to the LLRC report are said to have been endorsed by the cabinet on Monday.
Madhesi leaders have been demanding that the number of local units should be based on population and Dahal believes they could agree to go for elections if the government increases the local units in the southern plains.
Prime Minister Dahal also consulted NC leaders at his official residence at Baluwatar. Leaders from both sides agreed to announce a May-June date for local polls.
Sources close to the negotiations say Dahal is under pressure to announce a poll date immediately, bearing the the monsoons in mind. "Intensive discussions are underway.
Hope the date can be announced by tomorrow," said Election Commissioner Ila Sharma.
Previously, the election body had proposed to the government to conduct the local elections in two phases, saying that it would require an interval of at least 15 days after the first phase to prepare for the second phase. Calculating the number of days required for poll preparations, the EC has proposed May 15 for first-phase local elections and June 3 for the second phase.
Heated debate with Madhesi leaders
Meanwhile, a meeting between Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and agitating Madhesi leaders witnessed heated exchanges as the latter threaten to foil the elections if the government announced them unilaterally.
"If the government announces the poll date unilaterally, we will respond accordingly," said Sadbhavana Party Chairman Rajendra Mahato after the meeting. He said the Madhesi alliance is for a tit-for-tat policy with the government.