Ruling coalition in law revision bid as poll body stresses timely local electionsCommission says it is in the dark about the amendment process, as ruling alliance attempts to reach a decision.
The Election Commission appears to be firm on holding local elections on the date(s) it has proposed. The President on Thursday stressed the need for holding local elections “on time.” The main opposition CPN-UML has been saying any exercise to delay the local polls will be against the rule of law.
The ruling alliance, however, is making attempts to amend laws that contradict the constitutional provisions to make them compatible with the charter, in a bid to postpone the elections.
A meeting of the five-party ruling alliance has been scheduled for Saturday to discuss the dates for local elections, along with federal and provincial polls.
A meeting of Nepali Congress President and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Kumar Nepal on Friday agreed to discuss the elections on Saturday at the ruling coalition meeting.
The three top leaders have decided to finalise ways to amend the election laws from the meeting of all the coalition partners on Saturday, said Ramesh Malla, chief personal secretary to Dahal. “They will decide whether to amend the election laws through a bill or an ordinance.”
Questions, however, have arisen whether political parties should dictate when it comes to polls when the Election Commission, a constitutional body for the purpose, is in place.
Experts say when it comes to making election-related laws—or amending them—it’s the Election Commission that takes the lead.
Bhojraj Pokharel, a former chief election commissioner, said there has been a long practice that it is the commission that prepares the initial draft of election-related laws.
“Even if the commission doesn’t prepare the draft, it must be kept in a loop in the drafting process,” he told the Post. “After all it is the commission that implements the law.”
So far, any law drafted by the commission is sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs, as a liaison ministry, which forwards it to the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs for approval before sending it to the Cabinet for the final endorsement.
The draft then goes to Parliament as a bill, which if passed becomes a law.
Talking to the Post last week, the spokespersons for both the ministries had said “it is the commission that prepares the initial draft.”
Dinesh Thapaliya, the chief election commissioner, said the commission hasn’t been consulted for the law revision yet. Officials at the commission say the government might be planning to amend the laws through an ordinance and that could be the reason they have not been consulted.
“We are committed to timely elections as per our proposal. Therefore, we are not for any changes in the laws to defer the polls,” a senior official at the commission told the Post on the condition of anonymity. “The way the revision process is ongoing shows that the government is set to issue ordinances.”
The government can promulgate a new law or revise the existing one when the Parliament is not in session. However, the winter session of the Parliament continues and the next meetings of the House of Representatives and the National Assembly have been called for Sunday and Monday, respectively.
Nepali governments, however, have a terrible record of issuing ordinances regardless of which party or leader is leading, as long as it suits their interest.
Experts say any exercise to issue an ordinance when the Parliament is in session reeks of ill-intentions.
The Deuba government this time, however, is likely to prorogue the House under the pretext of UML’s continued obstructions.
Experts say deferral of local elections might benefit some parties now but such a move would come at the cost of democratic practises.
“The periodic election cycle must not be broken,” said Pokharel, the former chief election commissioner. “The ruling alliance must refrain from setting a wrong precedent.”
The current ruling alliance is made up of the Nepali Congress, the Maoist Centre, CPN (Unified Socialist), the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha.
The main actors who want postponement of the local elections are the Maoist Centre and the CPN (Unified Socialist).
The Election Commission has recommended local elections for April-May. Maoist chair Dahal, however, stirred up a hornet’s nest by proposing parliamentary elections at that time. He has said local elections should be held at a later date.
Both the Maoist Centre and the CPN (Unified Socialist) lack the bases at the local level and they do not seem prepared for local polls within months. Whey Deuba is playing along is no secret. He fears failing to listen to them could result in the formation of a “left alliance” with the UML which cost his party dearly during the last elections in 2017.
Experts say parties cannot exploit elections to their benefits, as periodic polls set up the foundation of democracy. They say the constitution clearly envisions periodic elections every five years with the only goal of strengthening democracy.
Constitutional experts say the constitution clearly envisions periodic elections every five years. Not holding elections on time means a breach of the statute, they argue.
“It would be a fraud on the constitution to defer local polls under any pretext,” Raju Prasad Chapagain, former chair of the Constitutional Lawyers’ Forum, told the Post. “It is wrong to abuse constitutional provisions to fulfil petty interests of some parties.”
Multiple leaders from the ruling alliance the Post spoke to have said plans are afoot to amend the election laws.
Gynendra Bahadur Karki, minister for communications and information technology, over the last few days has said that the government “will amend the laws that contradict the constitution.”
The Post’s repeated attempts to speak to Karki, who is also the government spokesperson, went unanswered.
Attorney General Khamma Bahadur Khati, one of the experts invited by the ruling coalition last week to suggest on how to go forward on local elections, also did not take the Post’s repeated calls.
“I cannot talk now,” Khati said in a text message late at night.