Redrawing of provincial boundaries has no bearing on local elections

  • Interview with Narayan Kaji Shrestha

Mar 6, 2017-As the date for local level elections has been set, political parties are preparing for polls. Yet the government has not been able to bring convince the agitating Madhes-based parties to take part in the elections. Mukul Humagain and Tika R Pradhan spoke to CPN (Maoist Center) Vice-chairman Narayan Kaji Shrestha about whether legitimate elections will, in fact, be held, the possibility of reaching a consensus on constitution amendment and the participation of all political parties in the polls, Indian views on the elections and the change in premiership from the Maoist Centre to the Nepali Congress.  

What are your views on whether elections will be held by the stipulated date? 

It was not unexpected that there would be several issues with the elections. However, it is the government’s view that the elections should and will be held. We believe Nepalis will participate in the elections with a spirit of togetherness. As far as the Madhes-based parties are concerned, they maintain that they will not participate in elections unless their demand of constitution amendment is addressed beforehand. They have not yet been convinced to participate in the elections; however, discussions are being held to persuade them. 

It has been 20 years since the last local level elections were held. The redrawing of provincial boundaries, as demanded by the Madhes-based parties, has no bearing on these elections. If the elections are not held by the stipulated time, major issues will arise, casting the future of the constitution into doubt and jeopardising the progress we have made so far. 

What’s your take on the prime minister’s claim that the elections will be held, and that constitution amendment will also be taken forward “simultaneously”?

The prime minister is in no doubt or confusion. He believes that all three elections will be held within January 2018, and that local level elections will be held on May 14. The Madhesi Morcha should be taken into confidence to ensure their participation in the elections, but the government will hold elections regardless. The government has tabled the constitution amendment bill, and there has been some progress towards a possible resolution. However, it does not seem the bill will pass before the local level elections. The CPN-UML has clearly stated that it will not budge from its stance; the Rastriya Prajantra Party has also claimed that it cannot support the amendment bill as it stands. 

The Nepali Congress and the CPN (Maoist Centre) had an agreement with the Madhesi Morcha that they would advance the amendment bill. We have done so to the best of our ability. Given the time constraint, our aim is to put the amendment bill on hold for the time being, hold discussions with the Madhesi Morcha regarding their other demands and reach an agreement that would ensure their participation in local level elections.  

The government has formed a task force to address the Madhes-based parties’ issues over the Local Level Restructuring Commission’s report. How is that progressing?

The task force will present a final solution to the problems regarding the LLRC and Province 2. Discussions have slanted towards addition of local units. The number of local units in Province 2 will be increased given its population density. Other issues regarding names, boundaries and local units will also be addressed. 

Regarding the chief and deputy chief of the local levels and local units’ representation in the electoral college, this was the system in the previous constitution as well. If the number of local units in Province 2 goes up in accordance with the Morcha’s demands, this won’t be much of an issue, as they will have higher representation in the electoral college.

Why do local level elections have to take place before provincial or federal elections? 

First of all, the Madhesi Morcha has stated explicitly that it will not participate in any elections before their demand of constitution amendment is addressed. If this is their stance, they should not bring up the possibility of holding other elections prior to the local level elections. However, if they say that they could participate in elections even if their demands are not met, and if they call for a hold on local level elections under these conditions, then perhaps discussions could be held. 

Additionally, the need to hold elections within the deadline is binding given constitutional stipulations. According to the constitution, the electoral college is comprised of electorates from village and municipal councils and these electorates represent the local levels in Legislature Parliament. Without these electorates, Parliament will not be able to function effectively, and thus no progress will be made on the formulation and implementation of laws. For all these reasons, we insist that all three elections must be held by January 2018, and local level elections have to be held first. 

We have also discussed with the Election Commission the possibility of holding all three elections together--regardless of whether or not the Madhesi Morcha participates. However, the EC stated that it could not hold three elections simultaneously.

Regarding the claim that holding local level elections is within the jurisdiction of provinces, although local units are within provinces, the constitution aims to recognise local units as separate entities and thus strengthen them, rather than allow power to lie solely with the provincial heads. The aim is to involve and strengthen the local levels and their residents. Ultimately, this helps strengthen the provinces as well. 

With the refusal of certain forces like the Madhes-based parties and the Janajati constituency to participate in elections, could their legitimacy be called into question?

I don’t believe this will happen. The country requires the elections, and the citizens will realise this necessity and participate in the polls. There is no question of the legitimacy of elections. By contrast, if the elections do not take place, major issues may arise. If the Madhes-centric parties do not participate, obviously there will be ramifications on the elections; however, the government believes that these repercussions will not be too extreme and credible elections will take place. 

Could power-sharing be a solution to the current political crisis?

We have thought of it as an option till January 2018. The NC, the Maoist Centre, the CPN-UML and the Madhesi Morcha could work together to solve current issues and drive the country towards elections. However, the Madhesi Morcha does not seem amenable to this alternative

Recently you visited India and met with various Indian leaders. How did you find the Indian stance on our elections?

I went to India primarily to attend a Maoist party meeting. The perception that I went there to meet Indian leaders and carry our prime minister’s message is completely wrong. However, as I was there, I made use of the visit and met with various Indian leaders, to whom I explained the government’s political position. I also informed them about our intention to hold elections. I stressed that good relations should and can be maintained between Nepal and India, and that the current political developments would foster such relations. I also said that India should refrain from interfering in Nepali domestic politics. Given the recent restraint shown by the Indian government, bilateral relations are poised to improve and Nepali and Indian leaders could sit down and table suggestions, clear misunderstandings and address problems in a reasonable manner. 

Many Indian intellectuals and leaders seemed positive about the announcement of the poll date. 

Some showed a non-committal reaction that indicated they thought it was our affair.

When I went to India, the date for local level elections had not been announced. Instead, I mentioned to them tentative dates. I do not see the possibility of recurrences of blockades and similar measures to protest against elections. 

There was an agreement between the NC and the CPN Maoist Centre over the change in government after holding local elections. In case elections do not take place, will this have an effect on the agreement?

The agreement between the Maoist Centre and the NC is no secret. The Maoist Centre will hold local level elections and then hand over leadership to the NC. We have not talked about what will happen if the elections do not occur, as this is not seen as a possibility. Elections will take place. 

Given the difficulty in implementing the constitution, do you see a possibility of political regression?

We have tried to address the needs of the people and to take the country forward in a positive direction. There are various issues within Nepali political parties; their aim to further their own agenda has caused problems in the functioning of the state, and the government has been unable to fulfil all of the aspirations of the people. However, the promulgation of the constitution was an accomplishment in itself. Obviously, more could be done to improve the situation; the constitution could have been executed better so as to address issues such as those raised by the Madhesi Morcha. The fact that it took a year and a half for the implementation of the constitution following its promulgation is another issue that the general public views critically. 

There is some frustration among the general people. But there is no retrogression. The government is functioning in a manner to resolve national problems. But more remains to be done to satisfy the general populace and bring prosperity to our nation. 

Published: 06-03-2017 08:28

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