Local level elections: Law revision must or not? Depends who you askRuling alliance says it will amend Acts to make them compatible with the constitution. First declare dates; if it’s by May 19, there is no need, the main opposition says.
Nepal’s politics appears to have been jinxed by those very politicians who have been players of the game of musical chairs for decades. Four years after the first elections that followed the promulgation of the constitution, Nepali political parties are now haggling over when the next polls should be held, despite the fact that they should be periodic, taking place every five years.
After making a pitch for delaying the local polls, which the Election Commission had said should be held in April-May, the ruling alliance made a turnabout, saying they have agreed on conducting local elections by mid-June “by amending necessary laws”.
The UML’s stated position ever since the debate arose over local poll dates has been that they must be held on commission-proposed date(s).
Now that the ruling coalition partners have said elections would be held within mid-June, UML leaders say they understand they would be held before May 19.
“Our understanding is the Election Commission can conduct polls within May 19 if the dates are announced in a day or two,” said Pradeep Gyawali, UML’s deputy general secretary.
Section 55 of the Local Level Election Act-2017 states that the term of all local representatives is deemed to have begun from the seventh day of the date of the elections. Nepal held the last local elections in 2017 in three phases—May 14, June 28 and September 18. Section 4(4) of the Act states that the first phase of the polls will be counted as the cut-off date no matter how many phases the elections are conducted in. Hence, local representatives’ term is deemed to have begun from May 20, 2017.
“If the elections are held by May 19, there is no need to amend the laws,” Gyawali told the Post.
The ruling alliance, however, has said there are some inconsistencies between election Acts and the constitution, hence the laws need amendments to make them compatible with the charter.
Unless the government issues an ordinance—for which the ongoing winter session of Parliament needs to be prorogued first—it has to take an amendment draft to Parliament. But the main opposition CPN-UML has been obstructing the House since October and has vowed not to let it function.
Many argue that by saying the election laws will be amended, the ruling alliance has thrown the ball in the UML’s court.
According to Gyawali, first of all the government needs to declare the election date(s).
“Then our party will make its position whether the laws need amendments or not,” said Gyawali. “If the elections are held by May 19, why amend the laws? We have not heard anything from the Election Commission on amendment to laws.”
The ruling alliance’s agreement of Saturday on holding local polls by mid-June came as a sudden change of heart.
The controversy over the local polls was stoked by Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal after he proposed parliamentary elections in April-May instead of local elections. CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Nepal was quick to join the chorus. Both Dahal and Nepal are partners in the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government.
Dahal’s proposal came on the heels of the Election Commission’s recommendation that local poll dates be declared for April-May.
According to Nepali Congress sources, even Deuba appeared to have fallen for Dahal’s proposal. All the three leaders had a common interest—the UML continues to be a strong force at the local level and holding local elections immediately may not yield good results for the Congress, the Maoist Centre and CPN (Unified Socialist). The exercise met with widespread criticism. Even Deuba was under pressure from a faction within his party not to delay local polls.
A major apprehension of Dahal and Nepal was whether the Congress would continue the alliance during the local elections. Congress leaders told the Post on Saturday that the coalition partners agreed for the local level polls by mid-June after Deuba said “some formula can be worked out”.
There, however, was no development on Sunday with regards to election laws or announcements of poll dates.
Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya said that the commission has not received any formal information from the government about the decision to hold polls within mid-June.
“The election laws should be amended only if the polls are held after May 19,” said Thapaliya. “I am not aware of any amendment plans.”
When it comes to drafting election-related laws—or their amendments—it’s the Election Commission that takes the lead.
Since the poll body says it has not been kept in the loop, many wonder if the government has already started work to issue an ordinance.
“Things will be clear once the government declares poll dates,” said Thapaliya. “If the dates are indeed after May 19, then there should be amendments. We will have to go through what amendment proposals the government brings.”
One official at the Election Commission said that the amendment proposal must say the polls will be held after the term of the local representatives ends.
“There must be an alternative provision so as to ensure that there won’t be a vacuum in the local units,” said the official who wished to remain anonymous.
According to UML leaders and the Election Commission, whether the laws need amendment will be clear after the government declares poll dates.
The Election Commission for quite a while has been urging the government to schedule local polls for April 27 if they are to be held in a single phase or April 27 and May 5 if they are to be conducted in two phases. On Tuesday, it even issued a statement, asking the government not to delay the announcement of poll date(s). Two days later, on Thursday, President Bidya Devi Bhandari during her meeting with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba called for the need to hold the polls on time.
Leaders from the ruling coalition say whether the UML lets the government amend the laws or continues to obstruct the House will make it clear what exactly the main opposition wants.
“Now the ball is in the UML’s court,” said Dilu Panta, a Central Committee member of the CPN (Unified Socialist). “If they continue to obstruct the House by not allowing legal amendments, it will become apparent that even they don’t want polls. So we hope they will let the House function.”
The Election Commission itself has come under fire for overlooking yet another legal provision.
Section 3 (1) of the Local Level Election Act says election of the local representatives must be held two months before the end of the term of the village and municipal assemblies. Going by that, the elections should have been proposed by March 19, not April 27 and May 5, some argue.
Election officials, however, say their only intention is to not leave a vacuum in the local bodies.
“For reasons, we could not recommend dates with a two-month gap,” said Thapaliya. “But still if elections can be held in a way that there won’t be a vacuum, is it not a good idea?”