People of all political orientation in Province 2 want elections
- Interview Bimalendra Nidhi
Jun 19, 2017-In a bid to bring the agitating Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N) on board the election process, the government last week decided to postpone the local level polls in Province 2 for September 18.
The RJP-N, however, has still not accepted the decision. It has been maintaining its opposition to the polls, insisting a constitution amendment and an increase in the number of local levels on the basis of population. Against this backdrop, Mukul Humagain and Anil Giri spoke to Bimalendra Nidhi, former deputy prime minister and home minister and a key Nepali Congress interlocutor in talks with the RJP-N, about the reasons behind the lack of progress in negotiations, ground realities in the Tarai-Madhes and the alliance between the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre.
Why has a political solution to the current stalemate been so elusive?
It is necessary to understand a bit of background. We [the NC] have been saying since the time of the constitution’s promulgation that the statute has to be amended in order to make it widely acceptable and to bring the agitating forces on board. On the other hand, the main opposition UML is against any amendment. So we have not been able to amend the constitution, although we have been making efforts to that end. We have had long discussions with the agitating forces, and the government under Pushpa Kamal Dahal came to a decision to add 22 local units in some Tarai districts, which is one of the demands of the RJP-N. But the Supreme Court (SC) stayed the decision, thereby hampering efforts to reach a political solution and bringing the RJP-N on board the election process. The SC should not have intervened in this matter.
What kind of agreement did the government have with the RJP-N?
We had assured it that we would make efforts to amend the constitution, but even if we do not succeed at it, we would at least increase the number of local units in the Tarai. This was a written agreement. Our decision to postpone polls was aimed at buying time to increase the number of local units and bring the RJP-N on board the election process. In a parliamentary democracy, it is the government’s prerogative to fix the election date. Technically, the government does not even need to inform the opposition, let alone seek its consent to fix the election date, although we have held discussions with the opposition in this regard.
The RJP-N has been arguing that it cannot participate in the polls without amending the constitution or at least increasing the number of local units in proportion to the
population. It says the process to fulfil its demands has been repeatedly hindered by one state organ or another under one pretext or another. It is difficult to refute their argument entirely. Had the SC not stayed the decision to increase the number of local units, the RJP-N would have participated in the local elections even without a constitution amendment.
Some claim that the RJP-N is hesitating to participate in the polls because it lacks the organisational base necessary to perform well in the elections. Do you think this argument has any merit?
It is not for me to comment on the RJP-N’s organisational base. But the way six parties came together under the banner of the RJP-N, they probably were not able to form the organs and entities necessary for a party. We amended the election bylaws twice to facilitate the process of the RJP-N’s registration as a political party. But a political party’s registration requires a minimum set of documents—the party’s constitution, its working committee, for example. The RJP-N was not able to furnish the required documents within the amended timeframe, which was a shortcoming on its part. The government and the election commission displayed maximum flexibility to bring the RJP-N on board the election process. Some RJP-N members had also shown similar flexibility, but they couldn’t sell it to the rest of the party.
Since the government has not been able to reach an agreement with the RJP-N yet, what grounds are there to believe that polls will indeed take place in Province 2 on September 18?
We will keep making efforts towards constitution amendment. But we all know that an amendment is not possible without a two-third majority in Parliament. But increasing the number of local units does not require a two-third majority. I am confident that the government will be able to address some of RJP-N’s demands, and that the polls will take place on September 18. There may be some hurdles, such as a challenge in the court, but we will seek a way out.
But the RJP-N is maintaining that it will not take part in polls without constitution amendment?
The two main parties in government—the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre—are in favour of an amendment. But the RJP-N knows that it is not only up to us. If it wants, we will take it to a vote. But even if the amendment bill does not pass, we are committed to the issue that the bill is concerned with, and we will take it forward.
Some claim that the new government’s decision to postpone local polls will make it difficult to hold provincial and general elections by January 2018 as stipulated in the constitution and will push the country towards a crisis. How would you respond?
Such suspicions are misplaced. Although the constitutional deadline for holding the remaining polls is January 21, 2018, we will have to conduct all elections by November if we factor in the weather. The Election Commission has said that for technical reasons, it will not be able to conduct provincial and general elections simultaneously. So we will have to hold three elections within a three-month window—September, October and November. We should, we can, and we will conduct the remaining elections before the constitutional deadline. Any kind of speculation about a ploy to postpone elections beyond the deadline is completely baseless.
You just returned to the Capital from Janakpur. What is the ground reality like in the Tarai, particularly in Province 2 where the local polls have been postponed?
The people want elections. I have interacted with local leaders from various parties, including the RJP-N, and they all want polls. But polls are not all they want. They also want some kind of a political agreement on the Madhes issue. The cadres of the RJP-N, as well as those of the major parties, want a political solution. RJP-N cadres confide in me, because the general impression is that the NC is understanding and accommodating—not just among the Madhesis but also among other groups like the Dalits and the Janajatis. The NC is a pan-national party. The same cannot be said about the UML.
What is your take on the narrative of ‘nationalism’ that the UML has been pushing in recent years?
It has not worked. People have realised that the UML’s nationalism is narrow and regional. Nepal is a composite of Himal, Pahad and Tarai-Madhes. A nationalism founded on suspicion towards a particular region is incomplete.
The NC and the Maoist Centre formed an alliance in the first phase of local polls. Are you in favour of a long-term alliance between the two parties?
I am. The two parties were central to bringing the decade-long conflict to an end. It was under the leadership of late Girija Prasad Koirala and Prachanda that the foundation of the peace process, state-restructuring and constitution-writing was laid. The collaboration between the two parties has to be kept intact at least until the current course of the constitution’s implementation is complete. It would be even better if the collaboration lasts longer.
Published: 19-06-2017 08:02