Government, poll authority agree to conduct local level elections on May 18Date yet to be officially announced, but it goes in line with the opposition demand and not to the liking of Prime Minister Deuba’s coalition partners.
After weeks of confusion and much hullabaloo, the government has agreed to conduct the local elections on May 18 in a single phase.
This is still weeks later than the date(s) proposed by the Election Commission earlier this month. The commission on January 14 had proposed local elections for April 27 and May 5 if they were to be held in two phases.
During a consultation on Tuesday with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, five officials of the Election Commission led by Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya proposed May 18 for the local polls.
Commission officials said the prime minister was okay with the proposal.
“Actually we had an informal discussion with the prime minister on holding the local polls on May 18,” said Thapaliya. “Today, we formally agreed on the date.”
After recommending the date, the Election Commission said it was ready to hold the local polls on May 18 even though there are less than 120 days remaining for poll preparations.
The commission has also said the prime minister has already directed the home minister to make security arrangements for the polls.
The meeting was also attended by Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand, Attorney General Khamma Bahadur Khati, Law Minister Dilendra Badu and government spokesperson and Minister for Communication and Information Technology Gyanendra Bahadur Karki.
Earlier on Saturday, ruling coalition partners had decided to hold local polls within mid-June.
Thapaliya said Prime Minister Deuba told election commissioners that he would announce the polling date from the upcoming Cabinet meeting.
He said the commission also informed the prime minister that election-related laws need not be amended if elections are held before May 19 as they do not contradict the constitution.
After an exercise to delay the local polls, at the behest of Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, which had met with widespread criticism, the ruling alliance on Saturday made a turnabout to conclude local polls by mid-June.
The main opposition, however, wanted clarity if “by mid-June” meant before May 20, the cut-off date when the terms of local representatives elected from 2017 polls end.
The UML has been saying if local elections are held before May 20, there is no need to amend poll laws.
Some Nepali Congress leaders said Deuba is also of the view that if elections of the local federal units are held before May 20, the Local Level Election Act 2017 need not be amended as suggested by some constitutional and legal experts.
The government had earlier held consultations with constitutional and legal experts in order to remove the ambiguities in the constitution and legal provision on local elections.
Maoist Centre and CPN (Unified Socialist) leaders, however, still believe that since the law says the elections for village and municipal assembly members must be held two months before the expiry of the term of the village and municipal assemblies, which means they should be held by March 19, the law needs an amendment.
“We will have to find out why the Election Commission is saying there is no need for an amendment,” said Jagannath Khatiwada, deputy general secretary and spokesperson of the CPN (Unified Socialist). “The government should ensure that there are no legal issues if the laws are not amended.”
Article 225 of the constitution states that the term of a village assembly and of a municipal assembly shall be five years from the date of election and another village assembly and municipal assembly shall be elected no later than six months of the expiration of such a term.
But Section 3 of the Local Level Election Act 2017 says elections to the office bearers of the local bodies should be completed two months before the term and mandate of the local bodies expire. This means, the Election Commission should hold elections for such members by March 20.
The coalition partners had, therefore, decided that this provision of the law contradicts Article 225 of the constitution and therefore the law needs an amendment.
“We are still with the coalition’s Saturday decision to amend the laws that contradict the constitution,” said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, a senior Maoist Centre leader who is also a member of the high-level political coordination committee formed by the ruling alliance to “assist the government.”
He said that the coalition will try to figure it out by discussing with the Election Commission and other experts.
Subas Chandra Nembang, deputy leader of the UML’s Parliamentary Party, dubbed the discussions between the Election Commission and the government on holding local polls on May 18 a positive move.
“It is encouraging that the Election Commission has recommended local level polls for May 18, but people are eagerly waiting for the government to announce the date,” Nembang told the Post. “People are still suspicious because the Election Commission had made recommendations earlier also.”
Political analysts say Prime Minister Deuba must have become ready to conduct the local elections on May 18 to avoid any confrontation with the main opposition UML, which has threatened protests if the polls are delayed.
“I think Deuba agreed to go for [May 18] so as not to alienate the UML,” said Hari Roka, a political commentator. “It seems he has taken the coalition partners into confidence for it.”
For Deuba, the Millennium Challenge Corporation compact, a $500 million American grant, is as important as his coalition partners.
The Maoist Centre and the CPN (Unified Socialist) are against parliamentary ratification of the US grant. If Deuba takes a decisive move to move it forward in Parliament, he will need the UML’s support.
When exercises were going on to delay local polls and conduct the parliamentary elections in April-May, as proposed by Maoist chair Dahal, the UML was at the forefront of opposing the idea.
Sister wings of the UML had launched street protests demanding that the government declare the date for local elections.
A recent meeting of the UML’s Central Secretariat led by General Secretary Shankar Pokhrel decided to launch protests throughout the country to press
the government to declare local level poll date(s) at the earliest.
“The UML had indicated that it would not let the government delay local polls after making the Parliament dysfunctional for months,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political analyst. “Deuba’s weak government cannot sustain if a confrontation erupts. So the prime minister may have taken the middle path by agreeing to hold the local elections on the date demanded by the UML.”
According to Maharjan, Deuba is under immense pressure also because of the “incompetent” tag he has been carrying all along after failing to hold elections in 2002.
“He wants to prove he can hold elections… on time,” said Maharjan.