Out of the box

  • The question of local elections is deeply intertwined with constitution amendment

Jan 19, 2017-Soon after returning from a visit to the UAE, Prime Minister Dahal said his government would announce election dates very soon. But it is gradually becoming clear that it will be a Herculean challenge to hold elections to the local, provincial and federal levels by January 2018, as required by the constitution. 

On Tuesday, the Election Commission said that Parliament would have to pass all 

election-related laws by the end of this month if local-level elections are to be conducted by 

mid-May. A delay in passing legislation will not only affect local-level elections. In fact, by the EC’s reckoning, if local elections are not held by May, it will not be possible to hold provincial and 

federal elections by January 2018. 

There are numerous challenges, both technical and political, in the way of elections. On a purely technical level, it will take some time for the State Affairs Committee to approve the 

necessary legislation before sending it to Parliament. At least five election-related laws have to be passed for elections to be held. Among these, only one—the Bill to Amend and Integrate Laws related to Voters’ List—has been finalised by a subcommittee of the SAC. Furthermore, there are bureaucratic and political disagreements on a range of issues. For example, there are disagreements between the EC and the Ministry of Home Affairs over the deadline for voter registration. This has been delaying the law on the voters’ list. But the most difficult problem lies with the Bill on Local Level Election Procedure. The parties have not been able to even agree on whether local elections should be held under the old system or the new one. 

The issue is further complicated, since the question of local level elections is deeply intertwined with the issue of constitution amendment. The Madhesi parties continue to state that they will not accept local elections until the amendment bill is passed and reject the recommendations of the Local Level Restructuring Committee. At a time when the EC has pushed the government to pass laws as soon as possible, it will be tempting to treat this as a mere technical matter and push through laws while ignoring the broader politics. This would be a mistake. 

The government and major parties need to take immediate steps to take opposition parties into confidence, decide on the modalities of local elections, reach an agreement on constitution amendment and pass relevant laws. These are 

difficult tasks. But the only alternatives are holding elections that are marred by contention and perhaps even violence (if opposition parties are not consulted and taken into confidence), or postponing elections and hence inviting a constitutional crisis (if relevant laws are not passed on time). 

Published: 19-01-2017 07:56

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