11-17 August 2017 #871

Fix a date

Rameshwar Bohara
After trailing badly in the first two phases of local elections, the Nepali Congress and Maoists are trying their best to make up ground in the third phase on 18 September in Province 2. However, in doing so they are both vying for votes from the Tarai-based RJP-N, and also have to contend with the UML, which is trying to build on its gains elsewhere. Both Sher Bahadur Deuba and KP Oli are campaigning in the plains, and the UML is suddenly raising the problems of the Tarai in Parliament.

The recently united RJP-N, however, is already on the verge of a split as the party is pushed into a corner in Province 2. It is having a public spat about how strongly to push for constitutional amendments before agreeing to contest polls. The Indian Ambassador in Kathmandu has reportedly met RJP-N leaders and urged them to take part, and he also drove over to Balkot last week to invite Oli to the Indian Republic Day ceremony. Oli is said to have expressed his doubts to him about whether the NC and Maoists were serious about provincial and parliamentary polls.

There is a constitutional deadline to hold those elections by 21 January 2018. There are signs that sections of both the NC and Maoists (still smarting from their poor showing in local polls) want to put off voting. Four-time prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s record on holding elections is also not very good. In 2002, he postponed local polls at the last moment, and they were not held again for 15 years. He was later sacked by King Gyanendra in 2005 for his inability to hold parliamentary elections he himself had precipitated by dissolving the House.

Despite reports that the Indian Ambassador is pushing for elections, there is talk that some in New Delhi don’t want elections under a Constitution it still dislikes. Deuba is scheduled to visit New Delhi this month, and there is concern that he may have to take orders there that he cannot refuse.

To be sure, the elections bills in Parliament are ready to be passed. The Elections Commission says it is ready, but may not be able to hold parliamentary and provincial polls together. If it gets really hectic, parliamentary elections can take place and the provincial one can be put off. Senior NC and Maoists admit the government has run out of excuses to postpone elections. That bodes well, but as long as Deuba is PM there will always be doubts.

Rameshwor Bohara is Senior Correspondent at Himal Khabarpatrika.

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