15-21 November 2013 #681

Two Polls

Most voters regard this as a parliamentary election and not one to elect a Constituent Assembly. Wonder why?

DIWAKAR CHETTRI
Perhaps it is natural that this election feels more like a parliamentary poll than an election for a Constituent Assembly that it is. The reason is that the public mood is one of disinterest and apathy towards issues like state structure, federalism, electoral process, and the role of the judiciary, which all led to the dissolution of the last assembly.

On the campaign trail, the candidates felt the pulse of the people thus their speeches are not so much about the constitution or federalism, but about development and services. The political parties, whatever they may say in their manifestos about the new constitution, are promising people jobs, roads, healthcare, education, electricity, irrigation, and water supply. And that is natural because with inflation, unemployment and stagnant investment, that is what most people are concerned about.

This focus on development is also a result of the absence of local elections for the past 16 years which has left Nepal’s villages, districts, and municipalities without elected councils. And even though VDCs and DDCs acquired some residual accountability from the last local elections in 1997, all that was destroyed in the past five years by corrosive cartel politics that turned Nepal into a predatory four-party dictatorship.

The voters also know that this election is necessary because the political parties couldn’t agree on state restructuring and forms of government in the last CA. And they haven’t seen any progress since last May to address those differences and are doubtful if this election will help resolve them. So they have turned their attention to the everyday issues that are foremost in their minds, knowing full well that it is the political instability of the seven years after the ceasefire that has prevented Nepal from benefiting from the peace dividend.

Nepalis have always shown common sense and voted maturely in elections. And they instinctively know that this interim election government was not strictly constitutional and it was perhaps put into place by outside interlocutors. Even though the main job of the assembly-to-be is to draft a new constitution within the first year of its five-year tenure, most people are doubtful that this CA will succeed where the past one failed.

But Nepalis are also generally optimistic and we are all open to a pleasant surprise. Which is why if allowed to vote independently and without fear, it is likely that in many constituencies the old faces will lose out to fresh candidates with new ideas. There will still be block votes by caste and ethnicity, there will be intimidation and vote-buying as in the past, but it would be logical to assume that most voters will show that they want change.

But the most positive thing to be said about this election is that it will send the chief justice back to the job he was seconded from. And if all goes well in the coming weeks, he may even do that with his reputation intact. That will restore the separation of powers and perhaps help the process of bringing Nepal’s democracy back on track.

Despite the scaled-down strike called by the Dash Maoists and the widespread defiance by the people, this campaign period has gone relatively more smoothly than the YCL-infested poll period in 2008.

In the East, the split Limbuwan movement has lost its edge. The Tarai seems particularly subdued. Perhaps it is that the Madhesi people have realised that the leaders they sent to Kathmandu have let them down, or that federalism isn’t such a turn-on anymore. The only lame reply Madhesi leaders on the hustings have been able to give is: “Oh, Pahadi leaders are also corrupt.”

It is time to move on and the hope is that the 19 November polls will be that turning point.

Read also:

Weigh-in

A second chance, MUMA RAM KHANAL

Let's not repeat 2008, KANAK MANI DIXIT

Far-fetched in the Far-West, SUNIR PANDEY

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