23-29 June 2017 #864

Setting a bad precedent

Postponing elections is a terrible habit, it will weaken Nepal’s democracy
Damakant Jayshi

One wonders: Has Nepal subscribed to some kind of crisis competition which gets renewed automatically? Sometimes the disasters are natural, but mostly, they are man-made.

By postponing the local government elections, Nepal’s political parties have set a bad precedent. Not for the first time, though: frequent postponement of elections for short-term reprieve, or to buy more time, is not a new story for Nepali politicians.

The ruling parties have not only postponed the local election dates but also have made a number of changes to party registration and election-related laws as well just to accommodate the late-to-the-party party, the RJP-N. The alliance of six Madhes-based parties came into existence two months ago on. Even if that convinces the RJP-N to take part in elections, the damage has been done.

Local polls conducted after 20 years instead of at the intervals of five years were to be held on 14 May in all the seven provinces. However, giving into internal and external pressures, the government announced new dates for Provinces 1, 2, 5 and 7 and went ahead with the first phase in Provinces numbers 3,4 and 6 (all of them in the hilly areas). It was ‘boycotted’ by RJP-N, although it is a bit of stretch to say this since the RJP-N doesn’t yet have any presence there.

The Second Phase has been rescheduled, and this time it is slated to be held on 28 June, in Provinces 1, 5 and 7. It was supposed to be in province 2 as well but the government postponed it again, to placate the RJP-N. The new dates for the third phase for has not been announced yet, and is likely after the monsoon. The RJP-N, however, has still maintained it boycott stance, citing lack of fulfilment of previous promises on constitutional amendments, chiefly related to redrawing of provinces.

The differences over constitutional amendments has meant a continued impasse. The NC Congress and Maoist Centre which just swapped places for prime ministership seem keen, at least on the surface, to have those amendments passed by parliament. The opposition UML, no stranger to obstruction itself, is playing hardball. It sees political capital to be gained in its current nationalist stance, and the results of the local bodies so far will have bolstered its opposition to the amendments.

The NC and Maoists took a short cut but that is fraught with consequences. In future, any political party or a combination of them could force postponement of state-level and federal (parliamentary) elections. They will cite the postponement of local polls. If you cannot conduct municipal and village-level elections, which are mostly fought on local issues, how will the parties hold state and national election which tend to have a broader and national set of issues at play? The UML may also rue postponement when it is in power next and other political parties repeat the manoeuvre.

It does not bode well for RJP-Nepal either. Is it willing to be cast as a party limited to only Province 2? Remember, one of the reasons the six Madhesi parties came together in April this year was to become a national one? Then there is the Upendra Yadav-led FSFN which also has a presence in this province. There is already a mutiny of sorts within the RJP-N with local politicians registering as candidates in the 28 June polls. It might be prudent for hardline RJPN leaders to take heed of this before it is too late.

Nepal’s political parties should realise that postponement of elections can be a danger to democracy. The fallout from the deferral of local polls might be contained this time around. But the consequences of postponement of national elections should not be lost on anyone. Remember, it was Sher Bahadur Deuba in 2002 as prime minister who recommended postponement to King Gyanendra. We all know what followed. Deuba is again the prime minister now.

Read also:

Election in instalments, Om Astha Rai

Stuck again

Deuba IV, Om Astha Rai

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