Polls over partisan interestsNepali politics is once again at a critical juncture. After a decade of upheaval and transitions, the biggest challenge the leadership faces today is if it can safeguard the monumental political changes that have been ushered in;
Nepali politics is once again at a critical juncture. After a decade of upheaval and transitions, the biggest challenge the leadership faces today is if it can safeguard the monumental political changes that have been ushered in; and for that, three layers of elections—local, state and federal—will have to be held before the current Legislature-Parliament’s mandate expires on January 21, 2018. If not, a constitutional vacuum looms large.
Critics have their own readings on how political developments will unravel if the country fails to go to the polls by the stipulated time. On one hand, we have leaders who are adamant on holding all three polls by early next year—conducting local polls this May, and the state and federal elections simultaneously around November-December. On the other, we also have leaders claiming that it is almost impossible to hold local polls by May, given the short time-span available for completing necessary preparations.
The current coalition between the Maoist Centre and Nepali Congress was formed with the intention of addressing the grievances put forth by disgruntled forces over the country’s constitution that was promulgated in September 2015. According to coalition leaders, the agreement between the two partners had it that the current government, led by Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, would stay in power for nine months and conduct local polls before handing over the reins to Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, whose government would then hold the other two elections in the remaining nine months. By those projections, the Dahal government should hold local polls and pass the baton to the NC’s leadership by mid-April.
The situation is not as straightforward though. With the government unable to bring agitating Madhes and Janajati forces on board through the constitution amendment proposal, put forth by the government in late November last year, the prospect of local polls seems highly unlikely. The agitating parties have set the amendment as a prerequisite for them partaking in the elections. The main opposition CPN-UML, though stressing on the need for timely polls, have vehemently questioned the rationale of the statute amendment. Coalition leaders are divided over the choice of poll modality—local bodies or local level.
So, what do we do now? At the moment, the ruling coalition is well short of the required two-thirds majority in Parliament required to pass the amendment bill. Even coalition leaders have slowly accepted this fact. They now are toeing the line of allowing the Parliament to decide the fate of the bill. Leaders say they are ready to accept the House’s decision on the bill, and are of the opinion that the Madhesi Morcha, an alliance of disgruntled forces at whose insistence the amendment bill was tabled, should also be willing to accept it. But the Morcha is sticking to their guns. They want the constitutional amendment as a face-saving deal in order to participate in the polls.
Considering the situation, the government is mulling over bringing another amendment bill—which they believe would be accepted by both the Morcha, as well as the UML. In fact, the Morcha too has begun talks with the main opposition—underlying the importance of taking the UML into confidence if there is to be a constitution amendment. However, reports have also claimed that talks are ongoing about a change in leadership in the government as a solution to the current deadlock. A section of the NC leaders have pushed Dahal to adhere to the deal between the two parties and mid-April deadline, irrespective of whether it holds local polls or not. Some coalition leaders have also opposed the amendment bill put forth by their own parties. Others maintain that local polls are the need of the hour. There have also been reports of NC-UML talks in order to form a coalition government, which leaders in discussion think would be a solid government that would have almost two-thirds majority in Parliament. It should be noted that the statute was promulgated by the NC-UML coalition government.
Maoist Centre leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha this week tweeted that if there is no election, there is no constitution and democracy—we would instead become a failed state putting the nation’s sovereignty in jeopardy. Deuba’s official Twitter handle also apparently acknowledged the tweet. To add, we still have political forces in the country questioning the frameworks of the constitution—a secular, federal republic nation.
As we enter a critical juncture, what could be an amicable solution for all concerned stakeholders? How do we make sure we do not fall prey to partisan mishaps? Leaders have internally begun to float the idea of directly holding state and federal polls sometime late this year to prevent the inevitability of the statute being deemed unsuccessful. Some say a quarter of NC and UML leaders have already initiated talks along those lines. The Morcha is also reportedly open to the plan since they believe it will give them a better chance at increasing their numerical strength in the Parliament. The Maoist Centre, too, are rumoured to be positive on pushing elections for November-December so as to have a better grip at the ground level.
But does that mean the current coalition would just be buying time to stay in power? Will the Morcha accept heading straight for provincial and federal polls without a statute amendment? The idea of a national consensus government, in which all major parties are stakeholders, is also said to be making rounds. Could such a government make the political forces more accountable to their constitutional responsibilities? Or are the parties looking to amend the constitution to extend the term of the Parliament, if they fail to hold any elections come January 2018?
If, for once, the major political forces let go of their entrenched demands and come to consensus on at least holding a tier of elections, provided the dangers of losing the accomplishments brought about by the constitution, then maybe it is not too late. But if the parties remain unwilling to give up their respective stances, we might as well prepare ourselves for another round of serious political turmoil.