Need for consensus grows as date for polls draws closer

- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu

Mar 30, 2017- The country is set to vote on May 14 to elect representatives at 744 local units to fill the democratic deficit that has plagued local development works for the last two decades.

Political parties save a few have already started campaigns while there is palpable enthusiasm among people for local level elections which have not taken place since 1997. 
But there are some concerns, especially in view of the growing trust deficit between Kathmandu and the Tarai. 
The Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM), an alliance of seven Madhes-based parties, in particular has objected to the local elections on two grounds. First, it has taken exception to the Pushpa Kamal Dahal government’s move of declaring polls without addressing its demand of constitution amendment. Secondly, some Morcha leaders have maintained that [the central] government infringed upon the jurisdiction of provincial governments, which are yet to be formed, by declaring polls and they are calling for putting off May 14 elections and holding provincial and federal elections first.  
They have announced protests and warned of disrupting polls. Hence security could be a major challenge when it comes to polls in Tarai districts, especially those in Province 2. 
“It’s more about political will rather than security challenges,” Home Secretary Lok Darashan Regmi told the Post, downplaying fears of security threats. “Security challenges are minimal as we have already dismantled armed outfits in the Tarai. All four security agencies have already geared up for polls. If political forces decide to go the other way, polls could be affected,” he added. 
The government is still in talks with the Morcha to convince the latter to participate in elections. Even hours before flying to China, PM Dahal was holding talks with Morcha leaders on March 23. He returned from China on Wednesday. For Dahal, addressing the Morcha’s concerns has become a moral obligation, as he had promised constitution amendment when he was elected prime minister in August last year. Before leaving for China, he had said there could be a breakthrough after his return.
Talking to reporters on Wednesday after returning from China, PM Dahal said “nothing can stop local level elections slated for May 14”.
“My government will work to create a favourable environment for elections,” he said, adding that the demands put forth by the Morcha would be addressed by next parliamentary elections. He, however, stopped short of mentioning the issue of constitution amendment.  
Minendra Rijal, a central leader of the Nepali Congress, the largest party in Parliament, said his party “is trying to get all political forces on board elections”. “We are of the view that elections must happen and the constitution amendment bill should be approved for the same,” he said. 
The main opposition, CPN-UML, however, holds strong opinions against constitution amendment. 
The UML has maintained that the government should focus on polls and not on constitution amendment and that the constitution amendment bill tabled in Parliament is against national interest. “As of now it appears that the government is committed to polls,” said UML Chief Whip Bhanubhakta Dahal. But he would not rule out the possibility of government deferring the polls—if the constitution amendment bill fails to move forward—blaming the Morcha. 
Ashok Rai of Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal, one of the key constituents of the Morcha, said the fate of elections still hangs in the balance. 
The agitating Madhes-based parties have told the government that one article of the constitution related to transitional provision should be scrapped, one independent article should be created for federal commission and the proposed federal commission should be made powerful with full authority to define the rights of the state, ascertain the number of states and their demarcation.  
“If our proposal is rejected, it will be difficult for us to participate in polls. We have already made our points clear to the government; we are waiting for a response,” said Rai. “We already have our reservations about the constitution. Holding May 14 polls will mean one step ahead towards implementing the constitution. So our protest will continue until our demands are met.”

 

"Nothing can stop local level elections slated for May 14"
- PM Dahal

"Elections must happen and constitution amendment bill should be approved for the same"
- Minendra Rijal, NC leader

"Government seems committed to polls but it may defer them blaming the Morcha"
- Bhanubhakta Dahal, UML leader

"We have put our proposal on government’s table. If it is rejected, it will be 
difficult for us to take part in polls"

- Ashok Rai, Morcha leader

Published: 30-03-2017 08:32

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