Nepali Congress is forming committee to discuss local level election and its dateRuling party is finally taking up the matter for discussion as it has become a hotly debated national political issue.
The Nepali Congress has scheduled a Central Working Committee meeting on Friday to constitute what it calls “central work execution committee” which leaders say will discuss various contemporary issues, including the local election, one of the most hotly debated issues over the past few days.
Congress President and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba decided to call the meeting after pressure to constitute such a committee, insiders say.
Party General Secretary Gagan Thapa said that formation of the work execution committee became necessary as holding in-person meetings of the Central Working Committee (CWC) is not possible due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
“Friday's virtual meeting will constitute the central work execution committee as envisioned by the party statute. As it is smaller than the CWC, we can hold even in-person meetings,” Thapa told the Post. “The central work execution committee’s meeting will be called in a couple of days to discuss the burning issues, mainly the local election date.”
After Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal proposed holding parliamentary elections in April-May by delaying local polls, confusion has arisen if that is indeed possible, constitutionally and legally.
While the ruling alliance has been mulling over Dahal’s proposal—the government is even considering amending at least two laws—one related to local election and another about the functioning of local governments—to make them compatible with the constitution—the Nepali Congress has not discussed the issue within the party yet.
Experts and observers as well as some leaders, including those from the Congress, told the Post earlier this week that critical issues like elections must be discussed within the legitimate party committees before letting any political committee decide on such issues. They were referring to the high-level political coordination committee, a mechanism formed by the five-party ruling alliance to “assist the government”, which does not have any legal or constitutional standing.
Congress insiders say pressure was building on the leadership to discuss the local election issue.
The 154-member Congress CWC has 134 members at present. The central work execution committee, or CWEC, has 31 members picked by the party president from among the CWC members in addition to 14 office bearers.
While Deuba appears to be convinced with Dahal’s proposal to delay local election, many leaders in Congress, including Thapa, believe that the election should be held on the date(s) proposed by the Election Commission.
The Election Commission has proposed local polls to elect representatives for 753 local units on April 27. It has said election can be held on April 27 and May 5 if the government wishes to hold them in two phases.
Amid the exercise to delay the local polls, there, however, are strong voices within Congress to stick to the commission’s proposal.
“I strongly stand for local election in April-May,” Jeevan Pariyar, the party’s deputy general secretary, told the Post. “I am going to demand that the party leadership abide by the Election Commission’s proposal.”
Besides the Maoist Centre, the CPN (Unified Socialist) is also arguing that local polls should be delayed and federal elections should be held in April-May.
The main opposition CPN-UML has already opposed the idea of postponing local election, saying such a move would be against the rule of law.
In the Congress party, some leaders close to Deuba too have been demanding that local election should be held on the commission-proposed date(s).
“I am for holding local election in Baisakh (April-May). To my knowledge, even the prime minister wants the same. However, he is under pressure from the coalition partners,” Ramesh Lekhak, a Congress CWC member who is considered close to Deuba, told the Post.
He said that there is a strong view within the party that there must be an understanding in the party committee on issues like elections.
Constitutional experts say that the Congress, as a democratic party, must reject the idea of postponing the local election. It is unfortunate that the five-party alliance, which the leaders claim was formed to safeguard the constitution, is bent on breaching the constitution, according to the experts.
Dinesh Tripathi, chairperson of the Constitutional Lawyers Forum, said the constitution clearly says the terms of the local representatives will be for five years.
“Various constitutional provisions and laws should be seen in isolation. There is a need to understand the spirit. The six-month provision in Article 225 of the constitution is for emergency situations [should they arise],” Tripathi told the Post. “There is still time to announce the poll date. Congress should take a mature decision so that it won’t be blamed for undermining the constitution.”
Article 225 of the constitution says the term of “a village assembly and municipal assembly shall be for five years from the date of elections.”
Another village and municipal assembly should be elected no later than six months of the expiry of such a term, it adds.
Article 215, however, says the terms of chairperson, vice-chairperson, ward chairperson and members would be for five years from the date of being elected.
Many are now saying there is a need to differentiate between assemblies (village and municipal) and elected local representatives. As per the constitutional provisions, once local representatives are elected, they ultimately form the village and municipal assemblies.
Experts say Deuba and his party are under pressure not to delay the local election.
“It’s not easy for the Deuba government to postpone the local election as the voice against the idea is growing louder,” Bipin Adhikari, a professor and a former dean of Kathmandu University School of Law, told the Post. “The government must not get swayed away by pressure from the Maoist Centre and the CPN (Unified Socialist).”
Amid the raging debate over elections, President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Thursday suggested that the government hold the polls on time.
During a meeting with Prime Minister Deuba, Bhandari inquired about the government’s position on holding the local election.
“The President called for timely elections as per the spirit of constitution,” Bhesh Raj Adhikari, the President’s personal principal secretary, told the Post. “The prime minister said he will take a decision after holding discussions among the parties.”