The election effectLocal level polls, if held successfully, will ensure a more vibrant exercise of democracy than ever before
As of now, it looks as though the local level elections are really going to take place. The country has seen a sea of changes in the two decades since the last local elections were held. The most important change is that a kingdom with a unitary model has been turned into a federal democratic republic. A new constitution has been promulgated after two Constituent Assembly (CA) elections, but its full implementation awaits three levels of elections: local, provincial and federal.
Local level elections were due 15 years ago when Sher Bahadur Deuba, the then prime minister, decided to postpone elections indefinitely. The prime ministers following Deuba had also been unable to formulate even a proposal for conducting elections, mainly due to the confusion surrounding the new constitution. The local bodies—village development committee (VDC), urban municipality and district development committee (DDC)—have been run by government officials. Those officials were neither ideologically committed nor locally accountable. Development at the local level was completely ignored. The local level elections are necessary to expedite development processes, as representatives of the local people are held accountable by citizens, so they will approch development with such a mindset.
The local level elections are necessary because they form the base of the federal pyramid. The constitution has stipulated that the transformation of the state from a unitary to a federal structure must be completed by January 21, 2018. The changes in the country so far are thus incomplete. Though the lack of trust among political parties has caused difficulties, the elections cannot be postponed indefinitely, and even the parties seem to feel the underlying urgency. Minor problems still require resolution, and if the parties in power and the opposition parties fail to resolve these problems at this stage, the country could come to be categorised as a failed state.
Hopefully, Nepali leaders have the wisdom to avoid this danger.
Four positive impacts
Though the process of implementing the constitution will not be completed by holding the local level elections, it will have a number of positive impacts. The first and most important impact is that there will be elected representatives at the local level after a long gap. This will maximise the frequency of the interactions between the people and their leaders, and will facilitate development works at the local level. Thus, real loktantra (a democratic regime) will become operational.
The second positive impact of holding local level elections is the beginning of the end of the political anarchy that has besieged the country for over a decade. The interim constitution and the new constitution have regarded the people as sovereign, but anarchy is evident everywhere. Court orders are not obeyed, Parliament has not been functioning properly and there are intermittent nationwide strikes paralysing economic activities. In support of partisan demands of some unpopular parties, the southern neighbour held Nepal under a cruel five-month-long blockade. Economic growth is in dire straits, with many industries shutting down instead of growing. There is a large exodus of youth and a growing trade deficit. Corruption is growing and no section of society is happy. People have lost faith in the system and they have lost faith in themselves. These and other problems will be addressed to some extent.
The third positive impact is that the provincial and federal level elections will be conducted with ease as the parties will have already accepted their position among the people. The kind of bad bargaining that has reversed the process of progress will be stopped, at least for the time being. Each party will focus on attracting the maximum number of people. The results of the local level elections will give an idea of the relative strengths of the contending parties. The parties can improve on these strengths in the other two elections. This justifies holding different elections at different times.
Finally, local elections will help parties gain credibility for doing something for the good of the country, and will improve the image of the leaders. They will go from being destructive to constructive agents of change. The prevailing political instability and insecurity will gradually evaporate. The government can take a predictably normal course for running the country and for fostering development at different levels.
Only the first step
However, this list of positive impacts does not rule out various problems. This is just the first step in transforming the nation into a federal democratic republic. The structure of the local level government has been fundamentally different from the previous local bodies. The physical structure has expanded enormously and the leadership structure has to evolve to encompass the aspirations of this growth. Considerable resources will be required for this infrastructural development.
The country’s current power structure may be difficult to contend with, considering the possible absence of an absolute majority of a single party. There may be problems of polarisation. Such a scenario necessitates a coalition approach to governance. But this approach is difficult to implement even at the central level. The hope is that considerations of practical problems will override the ideological barriers among politicians.
The scenario above provides a glimpse of local level governance after the elections. If successfully conducted, the local elections will ensure a more vibrant exercise of democracy than ever before. This will be the foundation of a true democratic structure.
Sharma is a political analyst