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All eyes on the 2nd round

Sunday, May 14th, 2017
Pic: Bikram dai

Pic: Bikram Rai

By all accounts, the first round of local elections on Sunday went off much better than anyone had expected, with people voting enthusiastically and in large numbers for their local ward, village and municipality members. However, the Election Commission’s decision to count ballots and declare results immediately has raised concerns
about the second phase next month.

Even so, the orderly voting and high turnout on Sunday has raised hopes that despite delays caused by a deadlock in the constitution, this could be a landmark on the road to greater inclusion and political devolution.

Nepal’s first local elections after 19 years are being held in two phases, with the hope that Tarai-centric parties will also participate in the second round on 14 June. Voting in the second round in four provinces bordering India will be much more challenging also because there are twice as many voters, and the winners and losers of the first round
could try to influence the second phase.

The first round was held only in 34 districts of three provinces, and the second round will be held in 41 districts of four provinces. And the number of voters for the second round will be nearly 10 million.

red letter days 1

But these are purely logistic challenges, and the Election Commission (EC) – which has the experience of successfully holding two Constituent Assembly (CA) elections in the last decade – is certainly up to meeting them. However, the EC needs to be supported by the political parties, whose success or failure to amend the Constitution is a key to the second round of polls.

Tarai-centric parties (except Upendra Yadav’s Federal Socialist Forum Nepal that is transforming itself into a national rather than a regional party) did not take part in Sunday’s local elections. They have promised to take part in the second round, but the Maoist-NC coalition first needs to amend the constitution to their satisfaction.

Rajendra Mahato of the Rashtriya Janata Party Nepal, a new entity set up after the recent unification of erstwhile Madhesi forces, has threatened to disrupt the second round if the Constitution is not amended. But the Maoist-NC coalition is still unable to muster numerical strength in Parliament to amend the Constitution, and internal rivalry within the RPP that had previously promised to help pass the amendment bill is complicating the matter.

Local elections are important not only to ensure democracy, good governance and development at the grassroots, but also for successful implementation of the new Constitution that was rejected by theMadhesi parties.

“A lot rides on local elections,” says Ghanshyam Khatiwada of the National Association of VDCs. “Its success will make the constitution implementation successful.”

However, the EC’s decision to immediately count the votes cast on Sunday may open a Pandora’s box for the second round. Spokesperson Surya Aryal told Nepali Times that the decision to count ballots immediately was taken because the law requires vote counting as soon as ballot boxes are collected, and also because ballot papers
may not be safe in the weeks running up to the second round.

Dormani Poudel, a member of the commission that restructured old municipalities and VDCs into 744 self-governing local units, says counting votes immediately is a bad idea for two reasons: “First, if a party wins a landside in the first round, other losers could gang up to disrupt or postpone the second round. Second, voters tend to vote for the party that is winning.”

Poudel says the success of the second round of elections was already a doubt, and the EC’s decision to immediately count votes has added to the uncertainty.

Om Astha Rai

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2 Responses to “All eyes on the 2nd round”

  1. Anupam on Says:

    It would have been utterly wrong to keep ballot boxes unopend and, for that matter, safe for a full month. It would have been a different matter if the 2nd phase voting was, say, held within a week or less.

  2. Salute to the people – Kanak Mani Dixit on Says:

    […] many sought to help the Madhes-badi leadership by forcing the break-up of announced local polls first into two, and then three phases. All along, they sought to buttress those plains-origin leaders who had lost […]

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