Better get going

  • Denial of local democracy has resulted in grievous injury to almost every aspect of national life
- Krishna Man Pradhan

Oct 21, 2016-

Nepal has not had local elections for the last two decades. An entire generation of youths has grown up without seeing how elected local bodies function. An entire class of political leadership has been denied a grassroots organisation and leadership-building opportunities. And an entire country has been subjected to a gradual denial of local democracy and local accountability. 

This denial of local democracy has resulted in grievous injury to almost every aspect of national life. It was during this period of local democratic vacuum that Nepal suffered a decade-long bloody insurgency, intensive political bickering and deterioration in accountable and transparent local service delivery. Corruption has become rampant at the local level since the nominated mechanisms that took turns running local bodies lacked the kind of accountability demonstrated by the elected leadership in the past. It is very strange that almost all the major political parties have publicly pledged to hold early local elections, but none has done anything to make them happen. There was a sense of optimism following the promulgation of the new constitution last year. But a year has already passed, and the country is nowhere closer to local elections.

Constitutional arrangements

The constitution has formally adopted the path of federalism and divided the country into three entities—federal, provincial and local. One of the main reasons for adopting federalism was to constitutionally ensure that the people get to exercise their rights and enjoy service delivery at the local level. As such, the new constitution has carefully listed the powers to be exercised by the provinces and the local bodies. It has also laid down the legislative, executive and even judicial functions of the provinces and the local bodies.

With regard to the constitutional arrangement for local bodies, Article 56 of the constitution details the formation of local governments under which the Village Palikas, Municipalities and District Assemblies will function. It also provides for Special, Protected and Autonomous areas within these local level bodies. Schedule 8 is related to the powers of local bodies. It gives them 22 different rights. They include the right to provide education up to the secondary level and basic health services, collect local taxes, implement local development projects and government service delivery, provide local security and protect consumer rights. In order to exercise these rights, local bodies have been provided an elected ward level mechanism and Village Palika/Municipal level mechanism. 

According to the new constitution, five representatives including two women will be elected at the ward level. Likewise, at the Village Palika and Municipality levels, a chairperson, vice-chairperson and ward representatives will be elected. Each Village Palika and Municipality body will include four women and two Dalit/minority representatives. This is the first time in Nepal’s constitutional history that a constitution has clearly stipulated the organisation, functions and inclusive representation of local bodies. The constitution also clarifies the continuity of elected local bodies. Article 303 of the constitution talks about local elections. It provides two alternatives to restore elected governance at the local level—hold elections to the existing local bodies or to the proposed new local entities. But they must be held during the transition period.

The constitution has set a clear deadline for the conclusion of the transition period. It states elections to the federal parliament, provincial assemblies and local bodies must be held before January 2018. After that date, the political transition will end and a new era of elected bodies will begin at every level. This means that the government and the political parties are constitutionally obliged to hold local elections within the next two years. The previous and the current government have stated that local elections will be held by March/April next year. However, considering past experience, one has to be sceptical about these promises. 

Some recommendations

From whichever angle one looks at it, there are numerous reasons why there must early local elections. And what should one do to ensure early local 

elections at this point? Here are some recommendations for the government, political parties, Election Commission and civil society. The government should expedite the passage of relevant election bills to prepare the legal framework. It should also fix the election date and arrange financial and human resources to conduct the election. The government also needs to quickly pass laws on local level governance. Federal laws should be quickly passed and related provincial and local laws should be drafted and sent to the provincial and local entities. That will allow local bodies to become functional as soon as their elections are held. 

The passage of laws will require the support of Parliament. And here comes a role for the political parties. They must realise that they cannot flourish without elections. They must stick to their commitments and urge the government to create a proper political framework for elections. The Election Commission will need to start preparations with the assumption that the election laws that have been tabled in Parliament will be quickly passed. The commission should keep itself well prepared to mobilise its human resources and update voter lists and registration processes.

Lastly, civil society needs to continue to lobby with all the stakeholders including the public for the creation of an environment conducive for early local polls. Nepal’s donor and development partners should also play their part by lobbying for early polls besides ensuring that their help will be available for the purpose. Local elections will ensure that their resources are utilised properly and benefit the people. If all these players work in tandem, local elections can be held and then a proper environment will be created for subsequent provincial and federal elections. This alone will help the implementation of the constitution as well as the reconstruction efforts of the government and development partners. 

 

Pradhan is the executive director of the Nepal Law Society

Published: 21-10-2016 08:25

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