June is impossible and if things go on like this polls in November may also be a mirage
In the months that followed the dissolution of the ill-fated Constituent Assembly
last year, some of us had called for its revival mainly because another election for another assembly would be difficult given the multi-polarised nature of national politics. The fact that the Interim Election Council (or should we say the Four Party Mechanism) has not been able to come up with even a poll date proves that our suspicions were right.
The top leaders are already pretending to be in campaign mode, touring their constituencies to woo apathetic voters with wild promises. Election watchdogs are planning the deployment of observers. The technocratic government is going ahead with logistical preparations, but the Dash Maoists seem even more determined not to let the elections happen.
Madhesi journalists from Siraha and Saptari told me recently: “The people are in favour of elections, but the frustration and anger after CA dissolution is so widespread that anyone can light a spark and make it spread like wildfire.” Armed groups in the Tarai have threatened to prevent elections and set off a bomb in a DDC building in the Tarai this week.
There is now so much momentum and the parties have invested so much political capital on elections
, that it will probably happen. The question is when. And also, what kind of elections? What is sure is that the pre-election environment will be unpredictable and given the large proportion of voters who seem uninterested or undecided, so will the results.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been trying to get disgruntled Madhesi UML leader Ramchandra Jha to defect and it is clear that the UCPN-M is looking to cash in on the sagging popularity of the Upendra Yadav-led Morcha in the Madhes. He has declared that he will contest from Dhanusha and it is likely Baburam Bhattarai will stand in Morang.
There are now efforts, probably inspired from without, to get Yadav to re-unite with the UDMF. One insider told me that there were talks and a possible alliance will come out once election dates are announced.
In a not unrelated development JP Gupta, fresh out of jail, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court demanding that the electoral areas in the Madhes be remapped according to the latest census data. If the apex court gives a nod, there will be a substantial increase in electoral seats from the Tarai which now has more than half the country’s population.
The only group that seems to be against elections and apparently for no obvious reason, are Mohan Baidya’s CPN-Maoist. So obsessive and annoying is Baidya that former US President Jimmy Carter, before flying back earlier this week, indirectly advised Khil Raj Regmi to come down hard on those who try to disrupt polls.
The proposal to keep one per cent vote as minimum requirement for parties to secure proportional representation quota has left smaller parties fuming, while the Election Commission’s proposed amendment that allows criminal convicts to run for elections after six years of completing their sentence, if passed by the cabinet, will most probably invite writ petitions. Then there are unresolved problems of citizenship and voting rights for the marginalised, particularly in the Madhes.
The prospect of polls in June have all but disappeared and with the festival season preceding November we may even be looking at polls next year. The challenge until then is to sort out election preparations, get everyone on board, and ensure participation so that we have meaningful elections.
Even if all the hurdles are overcome and elections are held sometime in the coming year, the new CA will face the same obstacles it did last time. But that’s another story.