By S. Binodkumar Singh*
On September 18, 2017, the third and final phase of local level elections was held for 136 local units including one metropolitan city, three sub-metropolii, 73 municipalities and 59 rural municipalities in the eight Districts of Province 2 in Nepal. Of the 2,664,950 registered voters, 73 per cent cast their votes. The voting concluded peacefully though there were some reports of pre-poll and post-poll violence. Pre-poll violence included:
On August 29, 2017, three Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) cadres were injured when they tried to obstruct an assembly of Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) cadres in Janakpur Sub-Metropolis of Dhanusha District
On September 5, 2017, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was exploded by elements from the Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha (Krantikari) at the CPN-UML mayoral candidate’s home in Lahan, Siraha District.
After the polling, on September 19, 2017, two cadres of the CPN-UML were injured in a clash with the Nepali Congress (NC) cadres at the vote counting center in Brindaban Municipality of Rautahat District; and on September 20, 2017, a cadre of RJPN was killed in a clash with cadres of NC in Katahariya Municipality of Rautahat District in an election row.
After an interregnum of 20 years, the first round of local level elections had been conducted on May 14, 2017, in 34 Districts of Province Nos. 3, 4 and 6, to elect representatives in 283 local level institutions, including four metropolitan cities, one sub-metropolitan city, 92 municipalities and 186 rural municipalities. 71 per cent of registered voters took part in these elections. The last local elections in Nepal had been held in May 1997.
The second phase of local level elections was held on June 28, 2017, for 334 local units including one metropolitan city, seven sub-metropolitan cities, 111 municipalities and 215 rural municipalities in 35 Districts of Province 1, 5 and 7. 73.69 per cent of voters cast their votes in the elections. Nepal has a total of 77 districts in seven provinces.
Significantly, RJPN took part in the third phase of the local elections held on September 18, 2017. RJPN was formed on April 20, 2017, by merging six prominent Madhesi parties, including the Tarai Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP), Sadbhavana Party (SP), National Madhes Socialist Party (NMSP), Madhesi People’s Rights Forum-Republican (MPRF-R), Tarai Madhes Sadhbhavana Party (TMSP) and Federal Sadhbhavana Party (FSP). RJPN had boycotted the first and second rounds of polls. The Madhesi parties have been demanding an amendment to the Constitution adopted on September 20, 2015, to change the demarcation of Districts and constituencies before the holding of local level elections.
On August 16, 2017, in order to bring the agitating RJPN onboard the election process, Parliament began clause-wise discussion on the Constitution Amendment Bill registered by the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led Government on April 11, 2017. Further, the ruling parties – NC and Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-Maoist Center) –added nine local units on August 18, 2017, including three new local units in Sarlahi; two in Rautahat; and one each is in Saptari, Parsa, Dhanusha and Bara Districts of Province 2, where the third phase of local level polls was held on September 18, 2017. Nevertheless, the Parliament session held on August 21, 2017, could not endorse the Constitution Amendment Bill, as opposition parities including CPN-UML and Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) voted against it. Out of 553 lawmakers present in the voting, as many as 347 lawmakers voted in favor of the Bill while 206 lawmakers voted against it, failing to reach the two-third majority required for constitutional amendment.
Earlier, due to simmering tensions Madhesi parties had refused to take part in local polls. However, on August 24, 2017, at a press conference organized by the party in Kathmandu, RJPN announced its decision to take part in the local level elections. RJPN Coordinator Mahantha Thakur noted: “Sixty-four per cent people’s representatives have accepted that the Constitution, which some forces boasted had endorsement of 90 per cent majority, is flawed and there is a need to amend the Constitution. Even though the Constitution Amendment Bill was defeated in the Parliament, the agendas of rights and identity that the RJPN has been raising were established in the Parliament.” Thakur also noted that the Government had granted ‘martyrdom status’ to those who were killed during the agitation for amendment to the Constitution, compensation to those who lost their properties in arson attacks, and monthly allowances to those who sustained serious injuries, among other Madhesi demands conceded.
Further, in order to end the negative practices and exploitation of Madhesi areas, and to formulate policy and programs for implementation in order to empower the Madhesi communities, the Parliament passed the Madhesi Commission Bill unanimously on September 8, 2017, which the Government had presented on November 13, 2016. Yet to be formed, the Commission will recommend special programs to empower Madhesi communities, which have lagged both economically and socially. The Bill includes the operation of awareness programs for the protection, promotion and empowerment of the Madhesi Community, and the Committee is to recommend measures for the protection of the Madhesi language, script, culture, history, religion, art and literature. According to the Bill, the Commissioner is to be appointed out of candidates who have spent at least ten years in the welfare of Madhesi Community, and with experience in the protection and promotion of human rights and people’s empowerment.
Meanwhile, on September 12, 2017, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba declared, “We failed to push the Bill through the Parliament but NC has not abandoned the issue. The Bill will once again be put to vote in Parliament after the local elections. NC is committed to fulfilling the demands of the Madhesi communities.” Reaffirming his pledge to amend the Constitution and promising to do it under his party’s leadership, Prime Minister Deuba had stated, on September 15, 2017, that NC would leave no stone unturned to empower the Madhesi people by amending the Constitution.
Earlier, taking the country one more step towards the implementation of the Constitution, the Constituency Delimitation Commission (CDC) formed on July 20, 2017, headed by former Justice of the Supreme Court (SC) Kamal Narayan Das, submitted its report on August 30, 2017, in line with its mandate to carve out 165 constituencies across the country for election to the House of Representatives. The number of constituencies for provincial elections will be 330, as the Constitutional provision requires two constituencies for each federal constituency. A copy of the report was submitted to Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. According to CDC Chairman Das, 90 per cent weightage was given to population and 10 per cent to geography while carving out the constituencies “after thoroughly considering factors like geography, population distribution, social diversity and laws regarding electoral constituency.” The CDC has also made sure that one District has at least one constituency. Of the total 165 electoral constituencies, 78 are in 20 Tarai Districts which make up 47.27 per cent of the country’s total geography. The CDC was initially given 21 days to complete its task. Its term was extended by 15 days on August 16, 2017. As per the Constitution, the new constituencies carved out by the CDC cannot be altered for another 20 years and the CDC recommendations cannot be challenged in any court of law.
On the other hand, on September 4, 2017, the Supreme Court directed the Government to hold all types of elections, including the provincial and parliamentary elections, by January 21, 2018. As per the new Constitution, local, province and parliamentary elections needed to be completed by this date. As a result, on September 13, 2017, the Government decided to hold elections in the provinces and for Parliament in two phases, on November 26, 2017 and December 7, 2017. On September 14, 2017, a day after the Government’s decision, the Election Commission charted out the details of Districts going to polls in the first and second phases. The Election Commission announced that, out of 77 Districts, 32 across the seven Provinces, would go to polls in the first round on November 26, 2017 and the remaining 45 Districts on December 7, 2017.
As part of the preparations to hold the upcoming provincial and parliamentary elections, the Election Commission finalized the design of the ballot papers to be used for the Proportional Representation (PR) electoral system, on September 22, 2017. A board meeting of the Election Commission endorsed the design, paving the way for printing the ballot papers. The Election Commission estimates that it has to print 34 million ballot papers for the upcoming elections. Election Commission Commissioner Narendra Dahal observed, “The printing of ballot papers is a time taking job. So, we are beginning to print the ballot papers for PR category from September 26.”
On September 20, 2017, the Nepal Constitution had completed two years since its passage, and has now entered its third year. Despite its fractious drafting and political differences that persist across the country, there has been gradual progress towards resolution, and a systemic embedding of a culture of democratic and negotiated settling of disputes, with no evidence of the extreme violence that had afflicted the country in more than a decade of insurgency and the transformative changes the national polity underwent during this troubling phase. The successful completion of local level elections has paved the way for provincial and Parliamentary elections later this year, indicating that the country’s political transition is likely to be completed in the foreseeable future, and the sway of the Constitution would be fully established.
* S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management