Print Edition - 2017-03-05  |  Free the Words

Politics of agreement

  • Announcing polls before resolving disagreements could be a ploy to perpetuate political instability
- Sachchi Ghimire Karki

Mar 5, 2017-One of my great uncles was frustrated with everybody taunting him for overworking his petite wife; she did not have even an ounce of flesh between her skin and bones. One day, great uncle decided to figure out the reason behind her perpetually busy homemaking schedule, and he discovered that she moved the same utensils seven times a day. Had she put the utensils in their right places the first time, she would have been spared the trouble of moving them six additional times. The resultant spare time may have given her a break to rest, and thus added some flesh to her bones. 

Every time I hear about a political decision in Nepal, I am reminded of my great aunt. So local elections have finally been declared, and there is a very tight schedule between the electoral code of conduct kicking in and the actual voting day. We are talking about local elections here, which is of a much larger scale than national elections. While I have no doubt about the election commission rising up to the challenge, I have not yet heard of a final agreement regarding the finalised provinces or local bodies. 

Political direction

Do we now have an agreement on the final shape and sizes of our provinces? Are we clear on the shapes and sizes of our village councils? Why have local elections preceded provincial and federal elections? Have we heard about that from our leaders? If our democratic government and political parties have reached an agreement on the sly on these key issues that led to the dismissal of the first Constituent Assembly (CA) and the continued unrest after the promulgation of the constitution, I am not aware of it. 

Nepal’s political advancement has always been marred by deeper regression and a move towards the status quo. It started with the proportional representation system which, instead of deepening democracy as it was expected to do, ended up propping up the family members of established political leaders. Then came the conversations around federalism and state restructuring. Instead of technically envisioning the federal structures, consulting with the citizens, garnering informed consent and moving ahead towards its implementation, the efforts made by political parties sowed divisions and polarised the people further. 

The actors on different sides of the political spectrum seem to have forgotten that the country is still the same. The nationality does not change, and federal restructuring is supposed to right past wrongs and ensure every citizen a fair share of access to the country’s services. The ensuing confusion is evident in the struggles over the borders of the provinces and local bodies. And it seems that neither the political party leaders nor the community members are willing to discuss and unpack the technical nuts and bolts of Nepal’s federal structures or the sequencing of the political process such that one step builds on another. 

Still doubtful

To which local bodies we are electing the representatives is the big question. The Nepali Congress has insisted on conducting local elections as per the previous local structures. If the government’s decision is aimed at bringing the opposing sides to an amicable middle ground by pushing the opposition to agree on amending the constitution and urging the Madhesis to reach an agreement on the polls and state restructuring, its effectiveness is yet to be seen. 

The tendency to strong-handedly push populist decisions forward without taking care of the actual details is unnerving. As they say, the devil is in the details. They will have to print above 20,000 varieties of ballot papers according to former chief election commissioner Bhojraj Pokhrel. During the CA elections, 241 varieties of ballot papers needed to be printed in five weeks, and that was a tall order. Will the local bodies be allowed to print them? When will the decision be taken?

Over the past decade, common Nepali citizens have felt that political parties are no longer committed to federal restructuring or any democratic ideals. They have seen the leaders of the proletariat adapting to luxurious bourgeois lifestyles. They have also witnessed the most democratic parties turning into patrimonial networks. And they have seen goons rising to political positions and political parties fragmenting due to self-centred internal power struggles. The solidification of stances around federal and local restructuring has further eroded the credibility of political parties.

Political interference in the appointment of key personnel has been severely criticised. Of late, people have even started doubting the commitment of political leaders to hold elections. The declaration of the poll date may have quelled some doubts, but it is still difficult to be convinced as political parties have reaped greater harvests by engaging in the politics of agreement instead of letting people elect leaders who are accountable to their constituencies. 

Best-case scenario

Announcing local elections before finalising the constitutional amendment and the shape of the local structures is putting the cart before the horse. For the political actors, it is killing two birds with one stone. By declaring local elections, they are convincing the citizenry that they are committed to the basic democratic tenet of elections. At the latent level, by declaring elections before reaching a middle ground on contentious issues including Madhesi demands, they are keeping political instability intact. This ensures that there will be opportunities in the future to forge unlikely partnerships and enjoy political perks through the politics of agreement. 

However, if the electoral declaration compells political actors to exhibit willingness to forge a consensus on all contentious issues—from constitutional amendment and state restructuring to the sequencing of the electoral process—so that federalism can be implemented within the January 2018 deadline, that would be the best-case scenario. If agreeable answers can address all the contentions within the specified window of time, it will bolster the waning credibility of political parties.

- Karki is a freelance writer

Published: 05-03-2017 08:31

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