Bracing for election

  • Major political forces haven’t grasped danger of not holding elections by next January

Feb 13, 2017-Prime Minister Dahal has repeatedly said that local elections will be held by May or June. The ruling parties are holding negotiations with both the Madhesi parties and the CPN-UML. But there is widespread scepticism regarding whether elections will be possible by the indicated timeframe. The fact is that there is  widespread confusion and disagreement on every single one of the key issues that need to be resolved before elections can be held.

First, the Madhesi parties continue to argue that they will not accept local elections until a constitutional amendment, which addresses their demands for changes in state boundaries, is passed. The government supports their claim. But the main opposition party, the CPN-UML, insists that the constitutional amendment is an irrelevance and that the need of the hour is to hold local elections first. 

Second, there are disputes over whether the local elections should be held according to the new system as laid out in the constitution, or the old one. The Madhesi parties state that to hold elections under the old system would be unacceptable, since this would entrench the status quo and impede the transition to a federal structure. The UML wants to hold elections under the old system. Recently, the Nepali Congress president has also argued that it would be best to hold elections under the old system, given the time constraint to undertake the preparations necessary for holding elections under the new system. The Maoist Centre has vacillated between the two positions. 

Third, there is even disagreement over the new model of local government as recommended by the Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC). The Madhesi parties want an additional 100 local units to be added in the Tarai. It can be expected that the UML and possibly the NC will strongly contest this claim. 

All of these issues are incredibly complex, and there are no signs that they can be resolved anytime soon. The question is if peaceful and credible local elections can be held without resolving these issues. And as we have said repeatedly in recent months, a failure to hold elections for all three levels of the federal structure in the near future will lead to a constitutional crisis. 

The constitution clearly states that the tenure of the current parliament will end in January 2018. So elections have to be held by this date. It might be possible to extend the tenure by a short period, but not indefinitely. The failure to reach agreement on these issues thus threatens the stability of the political structure and the future of the constitution. Judging by the actions of the parties, they do not recognise the magnitude of the danger. It is high time they did so.

Published: 13-02-2017 08:01

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