By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
Recently, Prime Minister Dahal declared that Local bodies elections are an urgent need of the country. Yet there appears to be no immediate chance of elections being held.
It is known to all that the three layers of elections- namely local bodies, regional/state level and the Federal Elections will all have to be held before 21st January 2018. It is mandatory and the constitution does not permit any extension.
The CEC has lamented that they have not yet received from the government the voter’s lists. The Government has not sent even the poll related laws and only then can the Election Commission proceed with the preparations. They would need at least two months’ time.
The Madhesi Groups of all hues are generally opposed to the local bodies elections until the amendments to the Constitution are made. The bill registered formally on Jan. 2017 is still pending and informal talks are being held by various parties. PM Dahal had also had separate talks with the main opposition – the UML, but it was of no avail. The UML is insisting that the local bodies elections should be gone through without the amendments.
The Madhesi groups insist that they will not participate in the local body elections unless the Constitution is amended. They have also objected to the recommendation of the LLRC (Local Level Restructuring Committee) of a total of 719 units. They are willing to go along if another hundred units are added to the Terai to keep numbers in proportion to the population.
They are also willing to accept to the suggestion of PM Dahal to omit the chiefs, Dy. Chiefs of village councils and municipalities in the Electoral College that is needed to form the National Assembly. This is an opening the Dahal led government should seize and go ahead.
There is a view of the members of the LLRC itself that their recommendations should be accepted in toto and cannot be modified. This is incorrect. After all it was the Government that formed the Committee and the Government itself had formed a “task force” also to review the recommendations. It is therefore within the rights of the Government to review and modify the recommendations.
Another view put forth now by the opposition UML is that one should go for state and federal elections without going through the local body elections. The UML is riding high on a narrow nationalistic platform ( read anti Indian) and with the present perceived popularity they will be able to score better than the other two mainstream parties. They have ambitions to score well in Terai too with inherent divisions within the Madhesi parties. Upendra Yadav led Federal Socialist Forum is slowly drifting towards Baburam Bhattarai’s Naya Shakthi. Another very ambitious and clever leader Gachhadar of MJF (Democratic) is taking even a harder line than other Madhesi groups only for the sake of remaining still relevant in this political scenario. The Madhesi Groups have never been united and would never be either – this is the calculation of other mainstream political parties. It is a sad situation indeed!
For two reasons, the local body elections cannot be by passed.
1. Local body elections represent the first tier of democracy at the grass roots level. There have been no elections for the last two decades. The fight for democracy in Andolan I and Andolan II and the immense sacrifices made by the people are meaningless if no election at the local level is conducted. This is an administrative vacuum that needs to be attended to.
2. Article 86 (2) of the Constitution mentions of the formation of an electoral college for the National Assembly “composed of members of the State Assembly, chair persons and vice-chairpersons of the Village Bodies and Mayors and Deputy Mayors of the Municipalities with different weightage of vote by members of the State Assembly, chairpersons and vice chairpersons of Village Bodies and Mayors and Deputy Mayors of the Municipalities as provided for in the Federal law.”
This means that unless the elections to the local bodies are held, election to the National Assembly therefore will not be complete.
It should be clear that the amendments to the Constitution cannot be gone through without the help of the opposition UML who hold the cards for the required two thirds majority to pass the amendments.
The only way would be for the Madhesi Groups to talk directly to the UML and come to an understanding. It is seen that an informal dialogue had already begun between the UML and the UDMF.
Some consensus could be reached between the two with the formation a commission with a mandate for a quick review for provincial boundaries and even the suggestion of redoing the boundaries of province 4 and 5 can be reviewed. The Madhesi groups should allow the local bodies elections to be gone through with revised numbers. This appears to be the only way out of the problems and challenges created by the parties themselves for implementing the new constitution.