Unleashing NepalPrime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was right when he said that the local level elections, the first phase of which has been held successfully in three provinces, were historic not because they took place after two decades but because people’s representatives are being elected to local federal governments for the first time, under a new constitution.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was right when he said that the local level elections, the first phase of which has been held successfully in three provinces, were historic not because they took place after two decades but because people’s representatives are being elected to local federal governments for the first time, under a new constitution.
In this sense, these are no ordinary polls—they are not a reiteration of the local body polls held in 1997. The 2015 constitution gives exclusive rights to the local level, which the Village Councils and municipalities can exercise without interference from the province or the Centre.
And this is true devolution of the power concentrated in Singha Durbar, a real decentralisation of state facilities and services. This vote is a first major move in implementing the constitution written by two Constituent Assemblies, each of which was a mosaic of Nepal’s demographic components, representing women, Dalits, Janajatis and minorities in a way to set example even for advanced democracies worldwide.
The election was largely peaceful and early indications are that the CPN-UML and the Nepali Congress will continue to be two major parties. The PM’s Maoist party stands to be a smaller third force as results are being declared in the 34 districts where the elections took place on May 14. The disgruntled Madhes-based parties, many of which are expected to join the polls in the second round, are another major force in the plains.
Obviously, the vote is important for the nation no matter who wins. Its success will make the people true victors as they have been reeling under a host of problems when the local governments were overseen technically by junior bureaucrats for about 15 years, authorising the corrupt decisions of local party representatives who always agreed when it came to misappropriating public resources.
Political leaders have remarked that the success of the first round election guarantees the success of the June 14 vote in the remaining four provinces. The next couple of weeks will see the election outcome dominating the public discourse. This will publicise polls as the most significant democratic process once again, setting the scene for election in the plains as well as the remaining Hill and Mountain districts.
Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum Nepal Chairman Upendra Yadav, who advocates the Madhesis’ cause, faced the wrath of the newly united Madhesi force Rastriya Janata Party Nepal after he decided to take part in the election process without the proposed constitutional amendments being passed. Yadav responded that his party’s participation was the “call of the soil I was born into”. He was probably emulating the NC founder BP Koirala, who told his followers that whenever there is confusion over what political course to follow, “grab a fistful of the country’s soil, remember the poor citizens; whatever idea dawns upon you, take it.”
Yadav’s stance comes at a time when the three tiers of polls are vital to institutionalise the revolutionary political gains of the past decade, or his unhindered choice to take his agendas to the people as the adult franchise goes.
This definitely has created fissures in the Madhesi alliance, leading effectively to the demise of the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha, and paralysis of the Sanghiya Gathabandhan.
There will now be extra public pressure on the parties shying away from the polls as people have understood this election as being wholly intended to empower them.
Popularity is at stake for the forces that hesitate to see people powerful at the grassroots.
As the constitution grants the local bodies autonomy of governance and oversight of local agencies, organisations, institutions, offices and businesses, and management of local resources, an effective utilisation of the opportunities of self-rule has the potential to unleash an unprecedented wave of development at the grassroots level.
According to Dinesh Thapaliya, secretary at the Federal Affairs Ministry, legal and logistical preparations are in progress to make the local governments functional once the elected representatives are sworn in. The local councils will have to pass laws governing their activities and outlining official procedures. Financial resources have to be mobilised in tandem with provincial and federal governments and civil servants deployed to the local level. There are some measures being worked out to ensure transparency and effectiveness of the new entities. According to Thapaliya, the constitutional Auditor General’s Office will carry out final auditing of the financial transactions while the National Natural Resources and Fiscal Commission will collect all the taxes before dividing them between the three tiers of government.
The grassroots units, particularly the rural areas, have their own distinctive problems. In the Hills, the predominant dearth is of water, both for domestic consumption and irrigation. As most people depend on sustenance farming, the money remitted by family members working in the Gulf and Malaysia has served as a catalyst for migration to towns and the plains. This has led to a drop in population of most Hill villages. New local governments can buck the trend only if they address the water scarcity in the otherwise fertile lands.
In Tarai villages, common problems are absence of enough agricultural roads, shortages of seeds and chemical fertilisers in peak farming seasons and heavy dependence on traditional ways of farming. Labour shortages and an unreliable market for local produce are discouraging farmers everywhere.
Urban areas are notorious for haphazard settlements, lack of consumer protection from profit-driven institutions and enterprises, and the poor law and order situation.
When PM Dahal’s party says it is working to build Singha Durbars in all Village Councils and municipalities, let us hope the new elected representatives will have the will, know-how and means to execute locally devised plans to troubleshoot persisting problems.