10-16 March 2017 #849

The elephant in the room

Om Astha Rai

Diwakar Chettri

The killing of four people in police firing in Saptari on Monday has amplified calls of those who do not want local elections already scheduled for 14 May. However, across Nepal voters, candidates as well as election officials are already gearing up for elections to local councils, the first in 20 years.

Madhesi Front leaders met Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Wednesday and gave him a one-week ultimatum to pass constitutional amendments, or they would pull support. Sadbhavana Party Chair Rajendra Mahato told Nepali Times it was a make or break deadline.

“People are now so angry in the Madhes that they will not let us negotiate with the government even if we want to,” he told us. “We will have to leave Kathmandu, go to the Tarai and launch a strong agitation unless the UML agrees to constitutional amendments.”

The UML, however, has rejected the amendment bill tabled in Parliament by the Maoist-NC coalition. It has warned the government not to call off local polls. The Saptari clash happened during the UML’s East-West roadshow, and the parties put off campaign rallies for now.

Meanwhile, the eastern Tarai is shut down. Cadre of the Tarai-centric parties are on warpath, vandalising the home of Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhi Prasad Yadav in Rajbiraj and attacking National Human Rights Commissioner Mohna Ansari when she visited the family of one of the Saptari victims.

Meanwhile, Dahal is said to be adamant about pushing through with elections, and has offered two ministerial berths to Kamal Thapa’s RPP in return for his party’s support for the amendment bill. He had earlier refused, but after Saptari, accepted the offer. The ruling coalition still needs more MPs to pass the amendment, and has offered a berth to Bijaya Gachhadar’s MJF (D) as well.

The RPP has cancelled its election campaigns in the Tarai, but wants the polls to go ahead. Spokesman Mohan Shrestha said: “What happened in Saptari was tragic, top leaders must engage in dialogue, but not cancel elections.”

The Association of District Development Committees of Nepal insists the polls take place. The Association’s Rishi Ram Lumseli said: “The Saptari violence was a political clash between two rival parties. It should not be an excuse to call off elections, it’s our last hope for real decentralisation.”

Read also:

Plain speaking, Om Astha Rai and Jiyalal Sah

Foundations of democracy, Om Astha Rai