26 July-1 August 2013 #666

Merry-go-round

Elections will focus everyone’s minds on the future, a future that most politicians seem reluctant to face

DIWAKAR CHETTRI
Frustrated with the doubts and delays about polls, several international interlocutors have told Nepal’s top politicians in recent meetings that “any election is better than no election”. Really? You sure?

They have reason to be exasperated when Nepal’s feckless rulers engage in mud-slinging during one-on-one meetings, but are all smiling and back-slapping buddies in collective gatherings. All of them swear by their commitment to hold elections, but in internal party meetings voice doubts about polls in November. In fact, the doubts are getting to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. With 120 days to go, the Election Commission (EC) is going through the motions of preparing of elections, but commissioners themselves are disgruntled about foot-dragging by politicians.

The CPN-M is not just boycotting elections, it has also threatened to unleash fire and brimstone if the polls go ahead. The other smaller parties too are sulking. The deadlock within the constituency delineation commission persists even as its term expired on Wednesday, and as party proxies within it haggled about where and how many constituencies to add. Chairman Tahir Ali Ansari got his commission to form a cross-party task force to break the deadlock, but without avail. The crux of the matter is that the 2011 census has shown huge increases in population in the Tarai and Kathmandu Valley with a dramatic depopulation of mid-hill districts. But there may not be enough time to start tampering with the existing 240 constituencies if we are to have elections in November. In fact, the parties which are most vociferously pushing for a revamp of constituencies could be the ones which are not so keen on polls now.

The internal power struggle within the UCPN (M) has been resolved temporarily by Pushpa Kamal Dahal centralising power in his own hands and this has removed a major distraction. However, Dahal is getting increasingly worried about his falling popularity his inability to reunite his party before elections and to forge an electoral alliance with the Madhesi parties. Without that, the main Maoist party’s fear of getting trounced in November is legitimate. Several public opinion polls also bear this out. Which could be why Dahal seems to be secretly egging on Mohan Baidya to put a spanner in the works.

The parties may have initially rejoiced at Baidya agreeing to an all-party conclave, but it is now looking like the roundtable idea is actually a ploy to delay polls. Anyone can see that Baidya’s precondition that the Regmi government step down is foot-dragging. Questions remain about why Baidya has even asked for an all-party meeting. What is the agenda? Is it to end the prolonged transition, and create further instability?

The Election Commission, for its part, is going ahead with business, pretending as if nothing is wrong. While there are huge obstructions on the road to November, it is wasting time to chide the ex-King and his daughter-in-law’s trust for distributing flood relief in western Nepal. There are much greater violations of the election code of conduct happening which should preoccupy the EC.

In a sense, the internationals may be right. At least elections will focus everyone’s minds on the future, a future that most politicians seem reluctant to face. The bottom line is this: do the political parties want to continue with this perpetual uncertainty or steer Nepal towards a stable state?

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