A welcome stepMadhesi Morcha should take local elections as an opportunity to establish their agenda among the people
After the new constitution was promulgated, the Constituent Assembly became the Legislature Parliament, with a mandate to carry out transitional management by January 2018. The constitution was an historic achievement, but it had to be amended after only 114 days due to disagreements from some sections of society. Since it is a dynamic document, it can be amended as per the people’s aspirations and wishes, but at the same time frequent changes are not good. The constitution is not a panacea for all problems; however, its proper implementation can be a remedy. Moreover, political parties must understand that a fresh mandate is needed from the people. The government has finally set May 14 as the date for local level elections; this is a welcome step. Now, it is time to concentrate on making the elections an historic success by ensuring participation of all the political parties currently agitating to amend the constitution.
The first step in implementing the constitution is holding local level elections under the new structure. Local governance is the workshop of democracy where a large section of society is directly involved. At this point, conducting federal and provincial elections before November is almost impossible. The Constituency Delimitation Commission has not even been formed to fix the 165 constituencies at the federal level; and without federal constituencies, provincial level seats cannot be allocated. It will take at least six months for the Constituency Delimitation Commission to demarcate the constituencies. In this situation, the government should focus holding local level elections according to the new structure. Local polls will be a milestone in implementing the constitution and institutionalising federalism.
It has been almost two decades that local level units have been run by bureaucrats without people’s representatives. This has hindered the implementation of development projects. The parties in government and the opposition had been making local elections a bargaining point for amending the supreme law of the land. The constitution is not set in stone; it can be brought into operation and shortcomings can be removed as they present themselves. Since there is no consensus on the amendment bill, both sides should agree that changes can be made following federal elections and a fresh mandate. A different parliamentary arithmetic after the election may provide an outlet to the current impasse. If both sides stick to extreme views, public dissatisfaction may swell and forces not comfortable with recent changes may take advantage of the volatile situation. It is better and necessary for all sides to keep the country’s interest at the centre and find an amicable solution.
Time is running out
As per the time line mandated in the constitution, all three tiers of election must be completed before January 2018. Time is running out to hold local polls, and the Madhesi parties should realise that elections are the only way to empower the people by letting them choose their representatives. Therefore, they should not threaten to disrupt the polls, but instead convince the people about their agenda and make amendments to the constitution as per their wishes after getting a fresh mandate.
The three big parties should stand together and convince the Madhesi Morcha and other disgruntled groups that there is no alternative to holding elections and their participation is compulsory. At the same time, the Madhesi Morcha should take this as an opportunity to establish their agenda among the people. No one should be afraid of the ballot; it is the only legitimate way to bring change in the country. Let’s distribute the fruits of democracy from the grassroots level and strengthen the base of self-governance, the main pillar of federalism. Let’s develop a better political culture and not delay socio-political transformation for economic development. The government should initiate immediate negotiations with the Madhesi Morcha to ensure their participation in the local election. Additionally, the opposition should also be proactive in finding a solution to emerge from the current deadlock. The amendment bill must be decided by the sovereign representative of the people. Both sides should be ready to accept the verdict of the people. The Madhesi Morcha may participate in the election if some of their demands are met. The most contentious issue of provincial demarcation can be put on hold and decided by a new mandate in a few months.
At the same time, the government should form the Constituency Delimitation Commission and pass the remaining laws needed to hold federal and provincial elections. Both can be conducted simultaneously before January 2018. Holding all three elections on time and ending the transition period soon will help Nepal enter a new era with the single objective of economic development. Endowed with natural resources and a working age population exceeding 50 percent, Nepal may achieve high economic growth in the near future.
Marasini serves at the Election Commission; views expressed are his own