Coalition makes a turnabout, agrees to hold local level polls by mid-JunePlans are afoot to align election laws with constitutional provisions. Confusion, however, persists.
In a sudden turnabout, the ruling alliance on Saturday agreed on holding local elections earlier than the date some of the coalition partners were proposing.
A meeting of the five partners of the ruling alliance—the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha—agreed on conducting local elections by mid-June. This, however, is around more than a month later than the Election Commission-proposed date(s).
The commission had recommended that the government declare local level elections for April 27, if they were to be held in a single phase, and on April 27 and May 5, if they were to be held in two phases.
“Today’s meeting of the five-party high-level political coordination committee suggested, via the prime minister, that local level polls be held within mid-June by making necessary arrangements,” Minister for Communications and Information Technology Gyanendra Bahadur Karki told journalists after the meeting. “The alliance has also suggested that the government make necessary preparations if the laws contradicting the constitution need to be amended.”
The five-party alliance agreed on the local elections by mid-June after consulting with some legal and constitutional experts.
According to Karki, the government will soon declare the local poll date after consulting with the Election Commission.
“I would like to make it clear to you that the local level polls will be completed within mid-June,” said Karki.
Earlier on Saturday morning, the ruling coalition had failed to reach consensus on when to hold local elections. At the morning meeting, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba had proposed that local elections should not be delayed.
The leaders then decided to seek advice from constitutional and legal experts.
Nepal conducted local level elections, first in 20 years, in 2017 in three phases—May 14, June 28 June and September 18.
Citing election laws, the Election Commission had said that the elections must be held latest by May.
But it was Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal who stirred the political pot, by proposing parliamentary elections. He argued that local elections can be delayed as per Article 225 of the constitution.
Article 225 of the constitution says the term of a village assembly and of a municipal assembly shall be five years from the date of election. Another village assembly and municipal assembly shall be elected no later than six months of the expiration of such a term, the article says. CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Nepal seconded Dahal.
There were multiple interpretations by constitutional experts as well of the election laws and constitutional provisions. The ruling alliance’s exercise to delay local polls invited widespread criticism, with the main opposition CPN-UML saying such a move would be against the rule of law and the principle of periodic elections, which is fundamental to democracy.
“As per the decision of the ruling alliance, it has been agreed upon that local elections will be held in a single phase this time,” Narayan Kaji Shrestha, a Maoist Centre) leader, told the Post.
Even though the ruling alliance now has agreed on holding local elections by mid-June, confusion continues to persist.
If what the Election Commission says is anything to go by, electoral laws must be amended.
A senior ruling party leader said there has been a broader understanding among the coalition partners to hold local elections between May 19 and May-end.
May 19 is the date when terms of the local representatives elected from May 14, 2017 polls for 283 local federal units of Bagmati, Gandaki and Karnali provinces end.
“Our plan is to elect representatives for local units within 10 days after their terms expire,” said the leader. “It is not good to keep the local bodies without elected representatives. So basically, our plan is to install new representatives by the first week of June.”
As per the election laws, regardless of elections held in later phases, all local representatives will have their term ended within seven days from the first phase of elections.
While the constitution says local representatives will have their term for five years after their election, as per the poll laws—and if elections conclude by mid-June—those elected from June 28 to September 17 will have their terms shortened.
To avoid any potential legal complexities, the leader said, even if elections are held by mid-June, the current representatives will be allowed to complete their term.
“The newly elected representatives will assume office after the old ones complete their five-year term,” the leader told the Post.
With the new agreement among the coalition partners, the general understanding is that federal and provincial parliamentary elections will be conducted later.
Before reaching the decision to conclude local elections by mid-June, Deuba, Dahal and Nepal had held a series of meetings, according to two senior Nepali Congress leaders.
“Basically, both Dahal and Nepal were suspicious over whether the Congress will continue the present alliance until parliamentary elections,” a Congress leader told the Post. “They were also not sure if Deuba would agree on an alliance for local elections.”
According to the leader, during Saturday’s meeting, Deuba assured Dahal and Nepal that “some formula can be worked out”.
The Maoist Centre was reborn after the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) was invalidated by the Supreme Court on March 7 last year. The CPN (Unified Socialist) was formed in August last year after Madhav Nepal and a group split from the UML. Both the parties are still working on their organisational bases.
“The assurance from Prime Minister Deuba that some sort of alliance could be worked out for local and parliamentary elections made Dahal and Nepal agree for holding local polls by mid-June,” said the Congress leader.
While addressing a function in Kathmandu on Saturday prior to the second meeting of the ruling alliance, Nepal said that “the present alliance will continue up to the parliamentary elections”.
But even to hold local polls by mid-June, election laws need to be amended.
There, however, is little time to prepare a bill and get it through Parliament. The main opposition UML anyway has been obstructing the House proceedings since October and has vowed not to let Parliament function.
“Now the onus lies on the UML and its chairman KP Sharma Oli,” said Nepali Congress Vice-president Purna Bahadur Khadka.
The UML, however, is not convinced.
Subas Nembang, deputy leader of the UML Parliamentary Party, said the government has not taken any initiatives to hold talks with the main opposition on resolving outstanding issues and ending the House deadlock.
“There has not been any move from the governing side to hold talks with the main opposition,” Nembang told the Post. “It seems that there is a single party dictatorship in the country as the coalition seems to be one party.”
Nembang said that if there are any complications when it comes to laws, that can be done through discussions.
CPN (Unified Socialist) leader Beduram Bhusal said the ruling alliance agreed on holding local polls by mid-June because delaying it and conducting federal and provincial elections early did not seem feasible.
“Due to the Supreme Court verdict, holding federal polls early was not easy as that needs dissolution of the House before completing its term,” said Bhusal. “Issues would have arisen over dissolution of the provincial assemblies as well. Therefore we took this decision to hold local polls by mid-June by amending the laws that contradict the constitution.”
Tika R Pradhan contributed reporting.