Possibility of early elections diminishingThe constitution has no provision for vote before schedule and most parties in the ruling alliance are still unprepared.
Once the buzz of ‘early elections’ probably in April-May next year was rife within the ruling alliance but two back-to-back developments have decreased such a possibility, say ruling party leaders.
Earlier a sizeable section of Nepali Congress leaders had been batting for ‘early elections’ in spring, proposing local and provincial elections for October-November 2022. The main opposition CPN-UML was also in favour of early elections.
But now some pressing issues like the 14th general convention of the Nepali Congress planned for mid-December and the elections to 19 National Assembly seats have decreased the chances of the country going to early elections, Nepali Congress leaders say.
CPN (Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is a key leader of the ruling alliance, on Saturday also ruled out the possibility of holding elections before the current federal House of Representatives completes its five-year term.
“There is no possibility of holding early elections as the constitution has no such provision. The constitution and recent Supreme Court verdicts both do not allow us to schedule parliamentary elections early,” Dahal told reporters in Janakpur on Saturday.
The idea of early elections was first floated by some Nepali Congress leaders close to Deuba.
Their proposition was based on the notion that the Congress party would benefit the most from an early election due to the recent splits in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and subsequently in the CPN-UML, the largest party in Parliament, and the Janata Samajbadi Party, a major force in the plains.
Nepali Congress Joint General Secretary Prakash Sharan Mahat was, however, non-committal on the issue. “I can’t say now whether the country would go to early elections,” he said. “But I cannot rule out the possibility either.”
“It can go both ways. The elections can be either preponed or postponed by 5-6 months as per the convenience. I will just say the elections will be held on convenient dates,” said Mahat.
Last parliamentary elections were held in November-December 2017 and the new parliament first met on March 5, 2018. Technically, the country needs to go to the polls to elect a new parliament in November-December 2022.
With the Election Commission recently announcing that it is going to conduct the National Assembly elections by mid-April 2022, the commission will ask the parties to register themselves for the elections. And for registration, the Nepali Congress [and all parties] must conclude its general convention two months prior to the National Assembly elections. The Congress has no window left for postponing its 14th general convention beyond mid-December because it has already exhausted the constitutional provision that allows delaying the general convention by up to six months.
The CPN-UML is also holding its 10th general convention on November 26-28 in Chitwan. The Maoist Centre has re-registered itself at the Election Commission after its merger with the CPN-UML was invalidated by the Supreme Court in March. Madhav Nepal’s newly formed CPN (Unified Socalist) has recently registered with the commission.
CPN (Unified Socialist) spokesman Jagannath Khatiwada said the country should be holding the local elections in coming April/May but elections are likely to be delayed as the Nepali Congress fears losing because last time the UML had dominated the local elections.
“Our party, the Maoist Centre, and the Janata Samajbadi Party have yet to strengthen their organisational bases so we are not ready for local elections in April-May. And the Nepali Congress cannot singlehandedly defeat the UML, which had swept the last local elections. So the elections might be deferred by up to six months,” said Khatiwada.
“That is why the Nepali Congress wants early general elections instead of local elections. But I think, the ruling coalition should fight both the local and general election by forming an alliance,” said Khatiwada.
The timing of the elections could also hinge on the outcome of the Congress general convention. If Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba is re-elected as party President, there will be one kind of situation. If the rival camp wins, the situation will be different, leaders say.
If the general elections are held early, then the Congress will have an excuse to delay its general convention, but for the purpose of participating in the National Assembly elections scheduled for mid-April, the party must conclude its general convention much earlier.
Although the party is discussing holding the general convention in mid-December, it has yet to make an official decision, which is made by its Central Working Committee.
For holding parliamentary elections early, the House has to be dissolved but there is no enough reason for Prime Minister Deuba and the ruling alliance to dissolve it especially because the present administration was formed by the order of the Supreme Court on the premise that Oli had committed a constitutional blunder by dissolving the House twice.
For an automatic dissolution of the House, Deuba needs to lose a vote of confidence. Deuba won the vote of confidence on July 18 with the backing of 184 lawmakers, following his appointment as prime minister as per the July 12 Supreme Court order.
Many within the Nepali Congress wonder on what moral grounds Deuba will dissolve the House in favour of early elections, as his coalition partners would argue that their “fight”, right after Oli dissolved the Hose first last year, was to ensure the Parliament’s full term.
Deuba’s appointment as prime minister followed two House dissolutions by erstwhile prime minister KP Sharma Oli—in December last year and May this year.
The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), the CPN (Unified Socialist) and the Janata Samajbadi Party are Deuba’s coalition partners. They fought against Oli and made efforts to install Deuba arguing that Oli tried to terminate the House prematurely and that the House must complete its full five-year term.
Gagan Thapa, a popular youth face of the Nepali Congress, said that early elections are highly unlikely.
“What I sense is there will be local elections in the coming April-May and there will be general elections in the following November-December,” said Thapa. He also ruled out any kind of alliance with any political party but Dahal and CPN (Unified Socialist) Chairman Madhav Nepal have said their five-party alliance will continue until the elections. There is a debate going on in the ruling alliance about forging an electoral alliance.
“The Nepali Congress should contest the local level and parliamentary elections alone, it should not form alliances with any one,” said Thapa.
Speaking at two different functions in Janakpur and Biratnagar on Thursday, both Dahal and Nepal stood for electoral alliances among the ruling parties.
The Congress-Maoist Centre alliance, backed by Madhav Nepal, who now leads the CPN (Unified Socialist), and the Janata Samajbadi Party may have been able to unseat Oli, but distrust and disagreement between them run deep. Insiders say the Maoist Centre, the CPN (Unified Socialist) and the Janata Samajbadi Party are not keen on holding early parliamentary elections for one reason—none of them is confident about winning “enough” seats.
There is no such provision of holding early elections in the constitution so the political parties should have made legal arrangements for it, said former chief election commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav. “We need to hold the local elections first.”
“I have not seen the preparations needed for holding local level elections, which are drawing close. Holding local elections should be top priority,” said Yadav, who oversaw the Constituent Assembly elections in the past.
“Then parties can prepone the elections which is widely practised in several countries but we do not have such provision in the constitution. If they make such legal and political arrangements, early elections are possible but I see a lot of complexities in it.”