Local body restructuring
The vastly different views on local elections coming from different political parties are providing more heat than light in this important debate. There appears to have been no serious homework on which these parties have based their views. The commission that was formed in March to fix the number and boundaries of local level units has proposed 565 village councils and municipalities, to replace the over 3,000 such existing units.
Nepali Congress, the largest party in parliament, has taken strong exception to this proposal, saying that there should be around 1,000 VDCs instead. But CPN-UML, the second largest party, is in favor of going to the local polls at the earliest by accepting the commission’s demarcations. CPN (Maoist Center), the party of prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, meanwhile, is in favor of fixing the number and boundaries on the basis of broad political consultations. The Madhesh-based parties, for their part, want to again start redrawing local units from the scratch as they believe that the current modality proposed by the commission is unworkable as it discriminates against Madheshis. Amid this tumult, Prime Minister Dahal on Monday instructed the Election Commission to lay the ground for local polls, most likely sometime next March.
Elected local bodies form the foundation upon which any functioning democracy is built.
Thus it is important to get their number and boundaries right. It is as important to do it soon as the constitution envisages three sets of elections—local, provincial and national—in the next 17 months. Holding three elections in such a short time span will be a daunting task if the outstanding constitutional issues can’t be settled soon and unless there is broad political support for such elections. We would like to propose that rather than start the process all over again, the political parties use the modality proposed by the commission as a basis. The five months that the commission has spent in research and fieldwork, at considerable expense to the exchequer, should not be allowed to go to waste.
If there is an overarching political agreement among at least the four major political forces—Congress, UML, Maoists and Madheshi parties—on outstanding constitutional issues, other things will take care of themselves. Such an agreement will, of necessity, include redrawing the boundaries of local bodies. And if that happens, election dates can be easily tweaked, by amending the constitution if need be. Such an understanding is sorely needed. The absence of elected local bodies over the past decade and a half has devastated grassroots democracy. Local development funds are illegally divided among political parties and very little of these funds get properly spent. Local development works have thus ground to a halt, as has the bottom-up process of emergence of new political leaders. The national polity, as a result, has stultified, as pretty much the same set of fast-aging leaders who emerged after the 1990 political change continue to control national polity. So the country desperately needs local elections. It is the responsibility of the political parties that claim to be the torchbearers of democracy to make them happen, at the earliest.