Crisis of confidence

  • If three elections are to be held by next January, parties need to strike an immediate deal

Jan 16, 2017-Political negotiations over the constitutional amendment and the electoral process seem to have hit another roadblock. The ruling parties have been trying to formulate a framework for holding elections by the deadline mentioned in the constitution. The Madhesi parties, meanwhile, have been arguing that election-related bills should be passed and the date for local level elections announced only after the constitution amendment bill is passed. 

This is a difficult situation, and both the government and the Madhesi parties have 

reasons behind their claims. The ruling parties are worried that a constitutional crisis could emerge if elections are not held on time, and are therefore keen to push ahead with their plan. But the Madhesi parties are suspicious. They believe that if they agree to an election process unconditionally, the major parties will use this as an excuse to proceed without moving ahead with the constitution amendment bill. The Madhesi 

parties also feel that once the election process gains momentum, it will be difficult for them to draw attention to their demands. 

The Madhesi parties also continue to oppose the recommendations on the Local Level Restructuring Commission’s report. They argue that since the 20 districts of the Tarai hold around 50 percent of Nepal’s population, it should have 50 percent of the total local bodies. This is an absolutist claim. 

While it is true that a large proportion of Nepalis live in the Tarai, carving out local administrative units solely on the basis of population will benefit heavily populated areas at the expense of sparsely populated ones. Various democracies have electoral provisions to safeguard the interests of the geographical regions that are sparsely populated. The US Senate, for example, has equal number of representatives of all 50 states regardless of their population size. 

Still, it is natural for the Madhesi parties to raise this issue since they feel upended about a number of agreements made with the state. If the major parties are able to negotiate a widely acceptable deal on constitution amendment and framework of the electoral process with the Madhesi parties, the issue of local bodies should be relatively easy to resolve. 

What is essential is that these issues are resolved without delay. It is already getting quite late and if all the legislation is not in place soon, it will be impossible to hold elections to all three tiers of the federal structure by January 2018. This could lead to a major constitutional crisis of the kind that emerged in 2012. That crisis severely disrupted the political process and it took over a year for things to get back on track. Nepal cannot afford a repetition of a similar scenario. 

Published: 16-01-2017 08:05

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