Nepali Times
State Of The State
Fixing something that’s broken


Come what may, the government is hell-bent on going through with municipal elections. Nepal's rural folk, representing nearly 85 percent of national electorate, have nothing to do with these polls.

Mainstream parties that represent 95 percent of the votes cast in the last parliamentary elections have decided to actively boycott it. Civil society is campaigning all over the country to explain its fatal implications. Even if they are held in a free and fair manner, the legitimacy of the elections will remain doubtful. The safety of candidates and their supporters are in doubt since the Maoists are committed to disrupting the polls.

If its procedural implications are daunting, the purpose of the polls is even more suspicious. Municipal elections won't help restore the sovereignty of the people, and will aggravate rather than help resolve the ongoing conflict. The polls will force the constitutional forces-mainstream parties and the king-even further apart.

No matter how well the polls are conducted, its result is unlikely to legitimise the current monarchical democracy. Pragmatism demands that the elections be deferred to avoid unnecessary confrontation. But reason often is the first casualty in authoritarian orders. Royalists let it slip recently that the polls must be held because the prestige of the king was at stake. Nepali society seems destined to continue to pay the price of deadly determinism.

As long as the constitution functioned, the desirability of constituent assembly could be questioned on the basis of pointlessness: why fix something that isn't broken? That dilemma ended with the dissolution of parliament in May 2002. Framers of the constitution hadn't assumed that a premier would willingly surrender himself to the supreme commander-in-chief of the army.

The possibility of amending the constitution to remove its anomalies ended with the royal takeover of 4 October, 2002. The message was: the sovereignty of the people is a sham. The mainstream parties should have immediately endorsed the main Maoist demand of elections for a constituent assembly. But they didn't.

If there was any doubt about the king's true intentions, it was dissipated by the takeover on 1 February 2005. Without saying it in so many words, King Gyanendra announced that he had no use for the constitution other than its single provision: Article 127, the 'Henry VIII clause' which gave the king the power to legislate by proclamation.

At this point any politician worth his salt should have sought a fresh compact with the people. But once more the parites dithered for months before reaching the 12-point understanding with the Maoists to end the insurgency and work independently for the formation of a constituent assembly.

Monarchists are sure that most mainstream parties are hostage to their own beliefs: it's quite easy to manipulate Messrs Pashupati, Girija, and Madhab with the spectre of Kerensky or Chiang Kai Shek. The Maoists know that unless parliamentary parties endorse their plans, they have no hope of seeing a new constitution materialise anytime soon. Unfortunately, political parties refuse to recognise that unless they actively canvas for a constituent assembly, their opposition to municipal elections alone will have little effect and no meaning.

They need to agitate for a new constitution rather than against a moribund old one. Perhaps that is what Krishna Prasad Bhattarai had in mind when he told a visiting delegation of Indian politicos that the country is sure to see substantive changes within a month. We're waiting.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)