Nepali politics has suddenly become heated in the middle of the winter on the issue of when to hold parliamentary and local elections. Different positions of the parties have been made public while the Constitution and election laws are also being interpreted differently.
Parties are currently making different interpretations of Article 225 of the Constitution and clause 3 of the Local Election Act.
Article 225 states that the term of rural assembly and municipal assembly will be five years, and election for the next rural assembly and municipal assembly should be held within six months of end of that term.
Clause 3 of the Local Election Act, on the other hand, states that members will be elected two months before the term of rural assembly and municipal assembly expires.
CPN (Maoist Center) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has argued that local election can be held in November-December pointing that the Constitution prevails if provision of other laws contradict the Constituion.
Some legal experts point that the Constitution and the election act talk about rural assembly and municipal assembly and not rural municipality and municipality.
Election of 753 rural and municipal assemblies can be, and have been, held on separate days depending on the choice and convenience of elected local representatives. The experts point that there would have been no dispute now if the act had mentioned that election should be held two months before the term of member of rural municipality and municipal expires.
No matter how the parties interpret these provisions now, we all know that the parties were careful about two things at the time of promulgating the Constitution.
One is the term of local bodies will be five years and the local bodies will not be left without leadership in lack of election due to the bitter experience of local bodies remaining without elected people’s representatives for around two decades. The leaders were as careful about local bodies not remaning without leadership as they were about the House not being dissolved before completing its five-year term.
Another is ruling parties should not unilaterally change election date, and basic laws like election laws, laws about splitting political parties and appointment at constitutional bodies because they are directly related to the institution and system of democracy. If there is no discussion and consensus among the parties represented in the House about such issues, that derails the system and institution itself.
We had, therefore, strongly protested when KP Sharma Oli unilaterally amended the laws about splitting political parties and appointment at constitutional bodies when he was prime minister (PM) to serve his narrow interest.
The ruling coalition seems to be trying to amend election laws and change election date due to similar self-interests. The ruling coalition has its own onterests in first holding the federal election in April-May and the local election in November-December.
The ruling coalition cannot ally in all 753 local bodies as cadres of Nepali Congress (NC) will not allow that. CPN (Unified Socialist) and even Maoist Center will struggle to win local bodies if the parties in the coalition ally.
The ruling alliance will be under huge psychological pressure if the two communist parties fare poorly in the local election. NC does not want the two parties to seem weak before the general election. If the two parties seem weaker, that will benefit CPN-UML and hurt NC’s prospects in the general election.
The ruling alliance may also feel that vacancy in the local bodies will benefit the coalition as UML had won at more places than other parties in the last local election.
Sher Bahadur Deuba has been accused of keeping the local bodies without elected leadership for two decades in the past. PM Deuba should not lead the act of keeping local bodies without elected leadership even this time.
There are many things that need to be reformed in the election process. Holding election of all three levels of government together will not just save the state’s coffers in election expenditure but also mean that decisions about development projects, transfer and promotion of staffers and other issues need not be stopped repeatedly due to the election code of conduct that comes into effect before the election.
There are many such issues that the parties represented in the parliament have to sit together and agree for electoral reform to make our democracy more polished. There will definitely be a solution if the parties sit together and agree to hold the three elections together either in April-May or November-December.
But the ruling coalition should not unilaterally amend election laws or push back the election date if the parties to fail to agree on these issues. There should be local election in April-May and provincial and federal elections in November-December if there is no consensus.
The government should not again invite political mayhem by deciding otherwise.