Elections can be viewed as referendum on amendment bill.

  • Interview Pradip Gyawali

May 22, 2017-

Local elections have finally taken place in the country after a long gap of two decades. While it will take some time for the final results to come out, it is very likely that the CPN-UML will lead the tally. Tika R Pradhan and Shashwat Acharya spoke to UML Secretary Pradip Gyawali about the UML’s performance, the impacts of the elections and the obstacles to holding the second phase of the local polls, especially the constitution amendment proposal. 

How has the UML interpreted the results that are out so far?

The successful holding of local elections is a success for all, as it is an important step towards the constitution’s implementation and it has allowed Nepalis to exercise their sovereign right and self-rule. We are happy that the country has finally found a way out of the protracted political transition and confusion at the local level. We are also satisfied with our party’s performance, although we had expected to do better. 

What do you attribute the UML’s success to?

We attribute it mainly to the role that the UML has been playing in promoting democracy, social harmony and national unity. Our strong organisational base, our role in the constitution’s promulgation, our uncompromising stance against the blockade, the discourse on development and prosperity that we started are some other factors. We interpret the results as people’s approval of our positions. 

What impacts do you think the elections will have on the local level?

While provincial and federal governments have their own importance, it is the local government that has much bearing on people’s day-to-day concerns. Nepali politics was for a long time bogged down in some unnecessary narratives. Ethnic, regional and identity issues had overshadowed development issues. Now the discourse on development will take centre stage at the grassroots level. The constitution has empowered the local government by giving it 22 exclusive and 15 shared rights. Elected local representatives will ensure that local resources are put to good use. There will be competition among the local units to outperform each other. Finally, local government will lay the foundation of a strong federal structure. Although challenges remain in creating local institutions, we view the elections as the beginning of a new era for the country. There is immense potential and we are very optimistic. 

How did you view the formation of various alliances for the elections?

Alliances are sometimes necessary and they do happen in a democracy. But normally they are made between ideologically similar parties or between opposition parties against the ruling one. But the alliance between the biggest (the NC) 

and the third biggest (the Maoist Centre) parties against the second biggest one (the UML) is strange and just goes to show the NC-MC’s apprehension about the UML’s growing popularity and about the revival of war-era cases.

The alliances that were formed for the first phase were strategic, not ideological. We are reviewing their effects before going for the second phase. One thing that we’ve seen is that the people didn’t like them. Many weren’t comfortable voting for a party that they’d never voted for. As far as the alliance between the UML and the RPP is concerned, two issues brought us together. One was some common beliefs about nationality. Another was RPP’s earlier stance on some of the provisions of the 

constitution amendment bill.  

There is still uncertainty about the second phase of local elections. What challenges do you foresee? 

Whatever uncertainty remains is mainly due to the unnecessary complications created by the government. The gap between the two phases of the elections, for example, is too long. The weather may present a challenge as the monsoon will arrive by June 14. That’s also when the month-long Ramadan fast falls. Then there’s the constitutional requirement to present the budget on Jestha 15 (May 29 this year). But doing so will, in a way, violate the election code of conduct. If the two phases were absolutely necessary, the second one should have been held before May 29. But the UML won’t cause an obstruction if it is going to be a ‘regular’ budget which won’t influence the second phase.  

We are also hearing talk about amending the constitution and increasing the number of local units in between the two phases. We want all political forces to participate in the polls. The greater the participation, the more vibrant democracy becomes. But in doing so, if you violate the basic rules of the game, fair elections won’t be possible. 

A major stumbling block in contemporary national politics has been the constitution amendment bill. Do you see a resolution in sight?  

We maintain that the country’s current focus should be on implementing the constitution rather than on amending it. The constitution is a flexible document and can, in principle, be amended. In fact, the first amendment took place when the UML was heading the government. But there are certain issues about which we have serious reservations. The current parliament is a transitional one, meant only to avoid a political vacuum and to carry out some essential legislative matters. It’s not appropriate for it review a constitution that it wrote itself. That authority should be exercised by a new parliament with a fresh mandate. 

We also have reservations over the content of the amendment bill. Although introduced in the name of the people of the Tarai-Madhes, the bill is not in their interest. The more you liberalise the citizenship provision, the more it squeezes the opportunities for the local residents of the Tarai. The constitution already accepts that Nepal is a multi-lingual country. But the current amendment bill, in an indirect manner, opens the door to make Hindi the working language for official purposes—at the expense of the Tarai’s local languages. And as far as federal delineation goes, it cannot be decided by the central government without the consent of the provinces whose boundaries will be altered. Although we are open to discussion about 

certain issues, for example increasing the number of local units in the Tarai districts, we won’t accept constitution amendment as a precondition for holding the second phase of local elections. The two are completely unrelated. 

The government talks about broadening the constitution’s acceptability. But does that only mean placating the Madhesi parties? Doesn’t that include addressing the UML’s concerns?

With some forces sticking to the demand for an amendment before the second phase, how do you see a way out?

We want all the Tarai-based parties to remain strong in the region. The weakening of democratic forces means the strengthening of radical forces. But these parties also have to show some degree of flexibility. Earlier they didn’t accept the constitution at all. Now they are adamant about the amendment. They have to give up such obduracy. The path that Upendra Yadav has chosen now—namely his decision to take his agenda to the people through participation in the polls—is the right one, and he deserves appreciation for this democratic move. The elections can be thought of as a referendum on the amendment proposal. If the parties that go to polls with the agenda of a constitution  amendment do well, it will compel the UML to review its position. 

We urge all the parties to participate in the polls, and we believe they will. In case they don’t, it won’t be them who will boycott the polls; it will be the people who will boycott them. There are a few Madhesi leaders with ambitions in national politics, but there are many others who have ambitions in local politics. They will want local elections to take place. So will the people of the Tarai. 

There may be security challenges if some elements cause obstruction. The government will have to make necessary security arrangements to let people exercise their democratic rights. 

Is the UML open to postponing the second phase in case an agreement cannot be reached?

No. May 29 is already late. Postponing it further will invite more complications. We have the constitutional requirement to hold all three levels of elections by January 2018. One proposal that was floated earlier was holding all three of them simultaneously. We have seen from the first phase of the local elections how confusing it can be for voters. Three elections at the same time won’t be practical.

Published: 22-05-2017 07:43

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