28 June-4 July 2013 #662

Battle for the ballots

Now that November polls look probable its back to the good, bad, and ugly in politics
Anurag Acharya
One reason why everybody seems so disinterested in political developments these days is because they can anticipate the outcome of it all simply by assessing behaviour, competence, and credibility of those involved. The likes of Sushil Koirala, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Jhala Nath Khanal, and Madhav Nepal have done their best in their past tenures to convince us of their incompetence. Which is why Nepalis couldn’t care less what they are saying these days.

Those of us who wish to see a new generation of leaders with fresh ideas taking over the election leadership to restore public faith in the institution of politics, will be disappointed yet again as the frail and failed leadership shamelessly refuses to relinquish power.

Nothing that the party top-brass has done so far in the so called High Level Political Mechanism has helped to create environment for the polls. In fact, just the opposite. So we are certain about elections in November not because our politicians want it, but because the international community led by Lainchour wants it. The real question therefore is not whether polls are probable, but what kind of polls and under what circumstances.

When the Constituent Assembly was dissolved in May last year, we had warned that holding another CA elections would be a challenge not just constitutionally but also politically. Nepal’s transition and statute drafting process had come to a grinding halt on 28 May after the assembly was polarised over a few points of disagreement. One year later, we are no closer to resolving those contentious issues on state structure, identity-based federalism, and form of government. If anything, the parties have hardened their positions.

In 2008, the parties and their leaders had election manifestos that reflected aspirations of those they claimed to represent. The leaders went from door to door, convincing the people about their political programs. This time they will not do that. The electorate itself is polarised already on political allegiance. Even the media and civil society are visibly divided and deep down the leaders know which side of history they will be on when the people give their verdict.

That is one reason why chances of a free, fair, and violence free polls are iffy. With political parties and their probable candidates already aware of the arithmetic, they seem determined to use good, bad, and ugliest of means to turn the results in their favour. And it will be the Madhes, with more than half the constituencies, which will decide the outcome. The electoral front in the Madhes is beginning to take shape with visible efforts from senior leader Mahanta Thakur.

Speculation about the ‘invisible hand’ at work may also be true, but what has actually brought them together is a collective sense of co-existence. The Madhesi leaders may not be able to stand each other, but they also know that divided they fall.

Last time, the Madhes based parties were divided when they went to polls. This time they will field a common candidate which might double their seats. The NC may further lose its base in the Madhes because it has done very little to retain it. Its proposal to carve out linguistic federal units in Madhes has already been booed out by the Tarai media and the lack of sufficient Madhesi representation in its candidate list makes the NC an outsider party.

So the fiercest battle for ballots in the Tarai will be fought between candidates of the Maoist-Madhesi alliance. The declaration from its top leadership to contest polls from Madhes, creation of Madhes bureau, and senior Madhesi leaders like Ramchandra Jha and Nandan Kumar Datta joining the party proves that the epicentre of the Madhes vs Maoist contest will be played out in the plains.

Periodic elections are the lifeline of democracy and an opportunity for the parties to acquire mandates. But if the polls become an excuse for them to use money and muscle to muster that support it loses its essence. The parties have shown their bad faith by openly criticising the Election Commission’s proposal to prevent candidates with criminal records from contesting elections and banning the unrestricted use of helicopters and unlimited campaign expenses.

This is not just an election to parliament, but also to an assembly that is supposed to draft a new constitution. Remember?

Other columns by Anurag Acharya:

Skeletons in the closet

Pain in the plains

The disappearance of truth

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