Division over local level poll dates as two ruling parties press for delaysCPN-UML for Election Commission-proposed dates while the Congress wants fresh discussion with political forces.
On December 24, the Election Commission proposed to Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba that local elections be held in a single phase on April 27. It also said that if the government conducts the polls in two phases, they must be held on April 27 and May 5.
The reason the Election Commission proposed the second phase by May 5, if polls were to be staggered, stemmed from the constitutional and legal provisions as per which the terms of the representatives elected from the 2017 elections would expire by May 20, 2022.
Deuba said he would get back after consulting with cross-party leaders. After not hearing from the government for three weeks, the commission on Friday held a meeting with 15 political parties to learn about their position on local election dates.
Party representatives gave mixed responses.
While the opposition parties like the CPN-UML and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party insisted that elections be held as proposed by the commission, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and CPN (Unified Socialist) suggested holding polls in October-November.
The Nepali Congress didn’t offer any specific views, with its representatives saying the government should “reach a conclusion” after holding discussion with the parties.
“We said there is no alternative to holding the polls as per the commission’s proposal and requested the parties to advise the government to announce the poll dates as per our proposal,” Dinesh Thapaliya, the chief election commissioner, told the Post. “We are meeting the prime minister in a few days to recommend the dates.”
It’s the government that announces poll dates at the recommendation of the commission.
Commission officials say their new recommendation will be in line with their earlier December 24 proposal.
Thapaliya said the commission is encouraged as a majority of the parties have said they second the commission’s proposal on election dates.
However, the Maoist Centre and the CPN (Unified Socialist) are for holding all three tiers of elections—local, provincial and federal—together.
“The local, provincial and federal elections must be held together to save the election expenses as well as the campaigning costs of the candidates. October-November will be the right time,” Lila Mani Pokhrel, a Central Committee member of the Maoist Centre who was present in the meeting, told the Post. “It will be unfair for the representatives of the local governments elected in the second and third phases if the elections are held in April-May. The constitution also envisions a five-year tenure at the local level.”
The country, on May 14, 2017, held the first phase of elections in 283 local federal units from three provinces among the 753 across the country. However, the second and third phases of the polls were held on June 28 and September 18 respectively. The gap between the first and third phases was four months.
The commission, however, says that the local elections must be held latest by May 5, two weeks before the terms of the incumbent local representatives expire.
According to Clause 55 of the Local Level Election Act-2017, the terms of local representatives start from the seventh day of the election date. As the first-phase local elections were held on May 14, 2017, the terms of the local representatives are deemed to have begun on May 20. This means new representatives must be elected by then so as to avoid a vacuum.
“We have clearly said there will be a vacuum at the local level if the elections are not held on time and there is no legal room to extend their terms,” said Thapaliya.
Article 225 of the Constitution of Nepal says the terms of local governments shall be of five years from the date of election. It also says the next local governments shall be elected no later than six months after the expiration of the terms of the existing ones. However, a new Act is necessary to implement the provision which is yet to be drafted by the government.
Pokhrel said the commission should prepare a bill to this effect and let the parliament decide on it.
However, Thapaliya said they won’t be doing that.
It is the commission that drafts the laws it needs and sends them to the Ministry of Home Affairs for further process to approve them.
“We won’t prepare any law to push the polls. The commission, however, has no control over any ordinance,” said Thapaliya.
UML leaders said the election shouldn’t be delayed on any pretext.
“We have strongly suggested that the commission hold the elections before May 20,” said Bishnu Rimal, the party’s deputy general secretary.
Loktantrik Samajbadi Party leaders say elections should be held as proposed by the commission.
“There will be a legal and constitutional crisis if the local elections aren’t held in April-May,” said Surendra Jha, the party’s Central Committee member. “We have suggested that the commission stand firm on its proposal.”
The Maoist Centre and the CPN (Unified Socialist)’s opposition to April-May polls stems from their fears. The Maoist Centre fought the first phase of local elections in May 2017 in alliance with the Nepali Congress. It, however, did not fare well. It reached out to the UML for the second and third phases and by the time the country went to general elections, the two communist parties had forged an electoral alliance.
The UML and the Maoist Centre merged in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). The NCP, however, was invalidated on March 7, 2021, and the Maoist Centre and the UML were revived.
The Maoist Centre is not confident of going to the polls in April-May. Similarly, the Madhav Nepal-led Unified Socialist was formed only on August 25 after a split in the UML.
The two parties in the ruling alliance are busy building their organisations.
“The postponement of elections means they will get more time for party organisation. Therefore, they might be willing for a delay,” according to Pokharel, the former chief election commissioner.
He said that time has come to fix the election date in the law so that there is no manipulation from the government or political parties.
The UML, on other hand, had won in most of the local units. It fears it could lose the representatives elected in the second and third phases in case the polls are delayed.
Experts on election affairs say there has been a wrong trend in Nepal to conduct the polls at the convenience of political parties.
Bhojraj Pokharel, a former chief election commissioner, said periodic elections are a must to strengthen democracy.
“Elections should be held by keeping the democratic and constitutional spirits—not the convenience of political parties—at heart,” Pokharel, also a champion of good governance, told the Post. “Timely elections are fundamental to political stability.”
They also say that fixing election dates as per the will of the parties is like allowing the examinees to fix their own tests.
Ila Sharma, a former election commissioner, said postponing elections will set a wrong precedent which should be stopped at any cost.
“Even the commission should be assertive for timely elections,” Sharma told the Post. “The present uncertainty over the election dates wouldn’t have emerged had the commission, like in many countries, enjoyed the legal authority to announce election dates.”