The uncertainty about elections (doubts about whether the main parties wanted them) was somewhat allayed this week after Parliament finally passed two bills. The laws allow the government to announce poll dates, and not the Election Commission.
The Commission had argued that if the government is allowed to fix dates, it will do so only if it sees a chance to win. The government had said forging a consensus among the top parties to have elections was more important than following the Election Commission’s preparation timetable.
Parliament needs to pass three more bills, and if that is done by the weekend local elections can finally be held for the first time in 20 years. Local elections are also needed for Pushpa Kamal Dahal to transfer the prime ministership to Sher Bahadur Deuba, as mutually agreed.
Election Commissioner Ila Sharma, however, says passing the bills is not enough. “Apart from these election laws, we also need to know whether we are holding elections to existing or new local government bodies,” she told Nepali Times.
The commission set up to restructure local bodies has already submitted its report, which recommends 719 local bodies, and that has been greeted by sometimes violent protests across the country.
“We need 120 days to hold elections after required laws are passed,” Sharma says, “meanwhile, the government must deploy staff to new municipal and village councils, and decide where their headquarters will be.”
The coalition, however, seems reluctant to endorse the report, fearing that Madhesi parties will harden their stand on amending the Constitution. They have sought amendment to the Constitution before holding local elections or restructuring local bodies.
Asked when the government will pass the report on local bodies, Local Development Minister Hitraj Pandey of the Maoist (Centre) shrugged. “How can we tell you when? It all depends on whether Tharu, Madhesi and Janjatis also support it,” he told Nepali Times.
But Pandey said his party was committed to holding local elections before the monsoon.
The Maoists were relegated to a distant third party in the 2013 elections, and fear losing more strength in the next polls. Dahal thinks his party may suffer an even more humiliating defeat if elections are held when he is out of power. He wants to hold at least one of the polls before vacating Baluwatar, and is trying to appease both UML and Madhesi parties.
UML is confident its nationalist stance will yield dividends at the ballot box, and appears more flexible on the Constitution. Some Madhesi parties are not satisfied even with the second amendment, and Dahal is trying to take them on board by promising a supplementary amendment bill.
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