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Endless transition

Monday, February 6th, 2017

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The Big Three parties which fast-tracked the new Constitution in 2015 and then parted ways seem to have finally realised that they need to stand together to end the prolonged political transition.

At a meeting called by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal at Baluwatar on 21 January (pictured above), the leaders of the ruling NC-Maoist coalition and the main opposition UML buried their hatchets, and reached a consensus to hold local elections in May.

In the last two weeks since that landmark meeting, Parliament has passed all five bills necessary to hold elections, the Constitutional Council has recommended names for vacant posts of Election Commissioners, and the government has asked the Election Commission to begin preparations for polls and formed a three-member commission to make the report of the Local Body Restructuring Commission more acceptable.

“There is a sudden realisation that we are running out of time for local elections, and we need to be together to make it happen,” CPN (Maoist-Centre) leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha says.

As the Big Three gear up for local polls, the Madhesi parties are once again feeling left out, and PM Dahal’s attempts to get them on board have not yielded results. Dahal invited top Madhesi leaders to Baluwatar last week, and asked them a series of questions: We will put the second amendment to the constitution bill to a vote, but will you accept if it is rejected by a two-thirds majority? Will you then participate in local elections? Will you accept the report of the Local Body Restructuring Commission if it is revised?

In response, Madhesi leaders threatened to boycott local polls if the second amendment bill is not revised and passed. They also refused to participate in local polls unless local bodies are put under the jurisdiction of provinces.

After listening to the threats issued by Madhesi leaders, NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba asked them point blank: “So you are determined to thwart local polls, is it?”

On Sunday, Deuba met again with Madhesi leaders and said his party agreed to amendments before elections. This appears to have more to do with his suspicions of Dahal’s dilly-dallying on elections than with a genuine effort to meet Madhesi demands.

Dahal was to announce the dates for local polls after last week’s meeting with Madhesi leaders, but he has had to tread cautiously. Three days later, a cabinet meeting decided to ask the Election Commission to begin poll preparations, without fixing election dates.

“We did not announce the exact dates because we are still waiting for Madhesi parties to come on board,” NC leader Ram Chandra Poudyal says, “but it does not mean that we will wait for them indefinitely.”

The UML is suspicious that the government still wants to postpone local polls by not announcing dates, citing the lack of consensus with Madhesi parties as an excuse. The UML’s Subhas Nembang says the government’s decision to ask the Election Commission to begin poll preparations is absurd because it has already stated that it is ‘prepared’. He says environment for elections will be ready once their dates are announced.

However, Nembang agrees that the ruling coalition has realised the need to join hands with the UML to end the political transition by electing a new Parliament, federal provinces and local bodies before January 2018.

“The parties that overcame all odds and promulgated the constitution in September 2015 need to be together unless the political transition ends,” he says. “This is our political line, and there are signs that the NC and the Maoists now also agree.”

Rameshwar Bohara in Himal Khabarpatrika, 5-11 February


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