A fine balance

  • Both RJP-N and govt should do their best to ensure broad participation in the polls and avoid violence

Jun 15, 2017-

The fate of the second phase of local elections hangs in the balance. The Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N) cadres have scaled up their protests in various Tarai districts, with violent incidents reported in Saptari, Sarlahi, Mahottari, Bara, Rautahat, Nawalparasi and Kapitalvastu. They have been involved in two kinds of disruptive activities: first, discouraging and barring election-related activities carried out poll officials; second, clashing with cadres of parties that stand in favour of June 28 elections—from the CPN-UML to the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum Nepal led by Upendra Yadav. For the first time on Wednesday, poll disruption activities threatened to take on a pan-Tarai character. 

These are not good signs. If the high turnout (73 percent) in the first phase of local level polls is any indication, people are eager to cast their votes and want their leaders to seek a fresh mandate. The last local elections took place nearly 20 years ago, and in the absence of elected bodies at the grassroots, corruption has remained high and political accountability is perhaps at an all-time low since the restoration of democracy in 1990. On the one hand, political parties are sharing the spoils without a proper mandate; on the other, bureaucrats, who have no mandate to run local governments, are deputed at municipalities and VDCs to make decisions on extremely important issues, from infrastructure development to delivery of services. 

While no one denies the need for early elections, political parties remain divided over whether the second phase of local elections should be conducted on June 28. A lot is at stake. RJP-N, which brings together six Madhes-based parties, is fighting for political legitimacy. It wants the government to release its cadres held during the Tarai unrest in 2015-16 and declare Madhesi people killed by the police during the unrest martyrs. It wants the ruling coalition—the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre—to fulfil its pledge to amend the constitution before the elections. 

While these are its stated demands, there are other underling realpolitik calculations as well. Two other Madhesi parties, including the one led by Upendra Yadav, are far into the election cycle, their campaigns well underway for weeks. Very similar is the position of major parties—the NC, the UML and the Maoist Centre. Though the six Madhes-based parties have come together for a common cause in their fight against Kathmandu, their recent unity remains very much a work in progress. Hence, they are understandably also fighting an existential crisis. 

If rescheduling the already-delayed elections by a short period helps in the larger inter-party political negotiations and gives the RJP-N time to organise its poll strategy, this option should be considered. After all, a broad participation in the polls will not only make the election process easier, it will also prevent post-election political complications. Meanwhile, the government should expressly instruct security forces to exercise maximum restraint. RJP-N leaders should tell their cadres in no uncertain terms to shun violence, too. Everyone should be mindful that a vast number of Nepalis do want early elections and that violence is never a solution. 

Published: 15-06-2017 07:56

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