The local election will help revive local democracy, improve local government and empower marginalized communities
Will election happen? This is a common question these days. Everyone seems doubtful, save the Election Commission (EC), which seems determined in its mission despite getting the shortest ever time to conduct election in democratic Nepal’s history.
Completing preparations for crucial local election within 82 days was always going to be a tall order.
Even EC commissioners were divided over the feasibility of election in such a limited timeframe. In the end, they, however, agreed to work round the clock to make the historical election a success.
Such a decision was taken with the likely constitutional crisis in mind. The constitution mandates three sets of elections—local, provincial and central parliamentary—by the January 2018 deadline.
With only two more election windows available for the other two elections, it was thus urgent to conduct local election within the current spring window.
The EC could simply have rejected government proposal to hold election on May 14 citing lack of time. But the election body, mainly chief election commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav, dared to take up the challenge.
As part of its preparations for May 14 local election, which is taking place after a gap of 19 years, the commission has already arranged for all 67 types of elections materials, although India suspiciously declined to provide it with indelible ink. But the commission has somehow managed to procure the ink from India. EC officials have worked day and night in Bahadur Bhawan for timely election. Printing process of ballot papers, voter roll and voter ID card is almost over. Apart from this, election offices have been established across the country and logistics are being transported to local units.
As many as 75,000 temporary police personnel have been hired for election and trained social mobilizers are busy teaching voters the right way to vote. The leaders of major parties are all jostling for candidacy and voters in most parts of the country are desperately waiting for May 14 to cast their votes.
Given the amount of the commission’s poll preparations, there should be no doubt about May 14 election. But the failure of political parties to create favorable electoral climate has also raised many eyebrows. Except the main opposition, CPN-UML, no other party seems fully committed to timely election.
Major political parties, mainly ruling ones, committed a big blunder by announcing election without taking the agitating Madhesh-based parties into confidence.
This delay in addressing demands raised by Madhesh-based regional parties has affected poll activities in southern plains. More important, the agitating parties have vowed to disrupt the election.
Home Minister Bimalendra Nidhi also seems uncommitted to providing adequate security arrangements for May 14. He may in the process only be trying to lock in his electoral constituencies in Tarai-Madhesh.
Knowingly or unknowingly, the EC has also made some mistakes. The election body’s refusal to give election symbol to parties other than those represented in the parliament was a big mistake. It was undemocratic. In a democracy, it is natural for all political parties to get unique electoral symbols. But going against established norms the election body deprived 68 parties from election symbols. Only the 27 parties that were already in parliament are contesting with their party symbols, while the remaining ones will contest under independent symbols. This led the disgruntled parties to campaign against the election, which fueled anti-election protests right across the country. Parties are demonstrating against election in major cities when they should be mobilized in villages in order to create an enabling election climate.
Protests were sparked over election symbol when EC was finalizing designs of ballot papers.
Pressed by the government, the commission, which had already reprinted ballot papers in several districts to accommodate major parties like Nepali Congress and Rastriya Prajatanra Party, continue to ignore this genuine demand of smaller parties.
The commission’s announcement that it would not accept foreign aid for local election also proved counter-productive. Breaking with the previous tradition of involving donors in poll preparation, the EC decided to rely completely on state coffers. This ‘patriotic’ move riled many foreign donors, which are now backing the anti-election alliance led by India. The southern neighbor’s refusal to provide indelible ink despite its previous commitment was not a coincidence. Many have taken it as India’s refusal to welcome Nepali constitution. After EC announced it would not seek foreign aid, the likes of DFID, Governance Facility and European Union refused to fund voter education and poll observation activities, according to informed sources. Donors now say they would like to see the resolution of the Madhesh crisis before any kind of election.
Madhesh-based parties may not be able to obstruct the election across the country, but any election-related violence in Madhesh will further polarize an already polarized polity. Informed election officers say that while conducting local election in Province 2 the districts of Kapilvastu, Nepalgunj and Nawalparasi may be especially vulnerable if there is no prior political settlement.
The government is in a fix on how to make local election a success. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has told his party colleague that the government is ‘under tremendous pressure to defer election’, although he has not clearly pointed out who is exerting that pressure. Key ministers like Home Minister Nidhi are also stressing on the need to resolve political disputes through dialogue.
As of now, the EC is still confident. The same confidence is not seen on the political front. Election Commissioners fear that the government could backtrack from its decision to conduct election on May 14, at the last minutes, rendering all preparations useless. But the EC is fully committed as the country desperately needs timely local election. An overwhelming number of Nepalis are also in favor of it.
Backtracking from the vital election won’t be wise, for both the government and the agitating parties.
Of the total 36,639 posts up for grabs in 744 local units, nearly half or 13,360 women leaders will be elected. Of total women leaders, 6,680 will be from Dalit community, while 1,751 members from marginalized communities will be at the helm of local government. That’s why election should happen on the stipulated date. For this, the government and agitating parties have no option but to be flexible to make election a grand success. This election will revive local democracy, improve local government and empower marginalized communities. What is there not to like about it?