Date set but why some are doubting timely pollsSeveral factors at play including difficulty in forming alliances and petitions at court.
Election date has been fixed. The election code of conduct has already come into force. Nomination filing dates are just 15 days away. But still, some, including senior politicians, are making public statements that there’s uncertainty over the polls.
CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Kumar Nepal said on Saturday that it is still not clear what could happen but preparations for the May 13 local polls should continue.
“There are concerns that the local polls were announced ignoring the calls of those who were elected in September 2017 as they cannot complete their five-year term,” said Nepal while addressing a function of the Dolakha-Kathmandu Coordination Committee of his party. “Anything can happen tomorrow. But let's prepare together for the May 13 polls.”
He said the May vote will violate the constitutional rights of those who were elected particularly from the third phase of election.
The government, in consultation with the Election Commission, on February 7 announced that local elections will be held on May 13 across the country in a single phase. Before the date was announced, some parties like the CPN (Maoist Centre) and the CPN (Unified Socialist) were pressing for delaying local level polls and holding parliamentary elections in May.
Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal was at the forefront of calling for holding all three levels of election in one go in May. But he retreated after experts advised against his call, saying federal and provincial elections cannot be held earlier.
The two communist parties’ fear of early polls stemmed from the possibility that they might not perform well.
They have now reached an understanding with the Nepali Congress, which leads the coalition, to go to the local polls in an alliance.
Nonetheless, even Maoist Centre chair Dahal has on more than one occasion said publicly that some forces are trying to delay the elections.
Some leaders of the CPN-UML too have alleged that the coalition partners are trying to scuttle the May 13 local level polls through the court’s order, while ruling parties suspect if the main opposition wants to delay the elections as it has refused to commit to abiding by the election code of conduct.
A UML delegation led by its general secretary Shankar Pokhrel on Thursday handed over a six-point memorandum to Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya, objecting to the ban on use of election symbols in any other office except the party office, resignation of people's representatives before filing nominations, and the provision that restricts complaints on election officer's decision on voting, among others.
The party, however, has made it clear that it is committed to following all the provisions of the code of conduct except those contradicting constitutional and legal provisions.
The main opposition has said that the ban on use of social media would be tantamount to violating the people’s right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution.
In general, elections do not get postponed once they are announced unless there is an emergency or a humanitarian crisis or a pandemic or if a situation completely unfavourable to hold the polls arises.
Doubts over the May 13 polls on the announced date mainly stem from two petitions registered at the Supreme Court.
One was filed by the mayor of Bhangaha Municipality of Mahottari Sanjiv Kumar Sah on February 17, and the other by Bijay Kumar Chaurasiya, chairperson of Mainapur Rural Municipality of Parsa, on February 25.
Both have argued that holding the local elections on May 13 in a single phase deprives those representatives who were elected from the second and third phases of polls in 2017 of their right to complete their five-year term.
The 2017 local polls were held in three phases—on May 14, June 28 and September 18.
After hearing both the petitions separately, the Supreme Court refused to issue an interim order, as demanded by the petitioners. It instead issued a show cause notice to the government and the Election Commission. The top court has summoned both the parties—writ petitioners and defendants [government and the Election Commission]—for discussions on the cases on Monday to decide whether an interim order should be issued.
If no order is issued on Monday, both the cases could be heard together on April 15, provided that all the necessary documents are ready, according to officials of the Supreme Court.
Matrika Yadav, a senior Maoist Centre leader, said actually the Nepali Congress’ decision to stop selection of candidates also created some confusion among leaders and cadres at the local level.
Last week the Congress instructed its lower committees to stop taking decisions on the selection of candidates, saying that they were not authorised to take the final decision and that they can only make recommendations.
The Congress, however, had issued the instruction to its lower committees just to ensure that selection of candidates could affect the ongoing plan to forge an alliance among the parties in the ruling coalition.
“We have instructed our lower committees not to take decisions related to selection of candidates also because that could affect the electoral alliance with other parties,” said Bishwa Prakash Sharma, a Congress general secretary. “There is no connection between that instruction and the rumours of polls postponement.”
Sharma also said the rumour could have arisen also because of some discussions that had started long ago among the parties and leaders about holding three tiers of election simultaneously in light of the huge costs that the country has to bear.
Some leaders of the coalition believe that difficulties faced by the parties to finalise the electoral alliance, as local leaders are determined to fight for different positions and are reluctant to give up their stances, may also have caused confusion.
“There are discussions among the local leaders that the ruling coalition cannot manage seats and that could affect the local polls and the alliance,” said Raju Gurung, a Nepali Congress leader and chairman of Siranchowk Rural Municipality in Gorkha. “Local polls are not like federal or provincial elections where the candidates tend to compromise easily.”
As many as 79 parties have registered themselves with the Election Commission for local elections, through which 35,221 representatives for 753 local units will be elected. The Election Commission on April 5 started printing ballot papers at the Janak Education Materials Centre Limited.
Legal experts say there’s no point in making guesses about what the court will say but given the circumstances, chances of an order against the polls are slim as lots of resources and efforts have already been put in.
“Since the law says the first phase date of the last polls should be counted, an order to stop the announced polls is unlikely,” said Harihar Dahal, a senior advocate. “But it’s for the court to interpret the laws.”