Election and donors
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is clearly unhappy with the international community. Speaking before a politburo meet of his party on Tuesday, he disclosed that he was under ‘immense pressure’ to defer the May 14 local election. He did not say who was exerting this pressure, but hinted that some of the same forces that were trying to obstruct the promulgation of new constitution in 2015 were at it again. He is unlikely to have said so had the pressure to defer the May 14 election come only from Nepali quarters, for political negotiations to bring Madheshi parties on board continue, and a negotiated settlement still can’t be ruled out. Moreover, officials at the Election Commission have been dropping plenty of hints that the international community has been far from supportive of the scheduled local election. Some of our foreign friends have let it be known that they will support election only if the Madheshi parties take part in it. For instance the donors who in the past supported election monitoring and vote-awareness campaigns have refused to support similar initiatives this time. They are making a mistake.
There has been no local election in Nepal for nearly two decades. In the absence of people’s chosen representatives at the local level, people have had to travel long distances even for minor services, corruption has thrived and local-level development projects, which have a direct bearing on people’s day-to-day lives, have ground to a standstill. Timely local election is the only way to halt this depressing trend and to revive grassroots democracy. It is hard to think of any other single event that will have even remotely similar impact on the lives of so many people. We understand the concern of the international community that the local election should have the participation of the broadest possible section of the political class. But this is precisely what the government has been trying to do as it continues to talk to the Madheshi parties in order to address their concerns over the new constitution. The prime minister has even said that he is open to two-phase election, if it guarantees the participation of Madheshi parties. The third amendment bill (that replaced the second one) was brought for the same purpose. The Madheshi parties rejected it outright. Yet the two sides have not stopped talking. There is no reason to doubt the prime minister when he says every effort will be made to make the electoral process most inclusive.
If our bilateral and multilateral donors are serious about helping Nepal become a peaceful and prosperous country, they should extend maximum support to local election that aims to bring vital services and development to people’s doorsteps. For Nepal to pull off this mammoth endeavor it needs all the help it can get. The international community should understand that if the three sets of elections are not held by the constitutionally-mandated January 2018 deadline, there could be a dangerous political and constitutional void in Nepal, which in turn will jeopardize all recent progressive changes—the changes that the international community have carefully nurtured. We thus hope Nepal’s friends and well-wishers, if they can’t help the country pull off these all-important elections, at least don’t try to foil Nepal’s own efforts towards that end.