April 5, 2017 02:00 AM NPT
One way to explain the public stands of all the major political forces on the local election slated for May 14 is to explore how the election helps or hinders the path of their leaders to power. Nepali Congress has categorically ruled out conducting local election in two phases since it will delay Sher Bahadur Deuba’s expected elevation to the prime minister’s post. In sharp contrast, the incumbent Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is pushing for two-phase polls since the delay will allow him to continue as prime minister, at least until the start of the budget session in parliament. KP Oli, the leader of the main opposition, CPN-UML, backs Deuba’s stand on single-phase election on May 14, which in turn will create momentum for provincial and federal elections. Oli reckons that his UML is in strong position electorally and its victory in federal election would once again open Singa Durbar’s doors for him. The leaders of Madheshi parties, for their part, are unsure of their electoral prospects. They think their only way back to power is driving a hard bargain with Kathmandu, which will go down well in the Madheshi hinterlands. For the newly invigorated RPP and its wily chairman Kamal Thapa, an old expert at power-politics, it doesn’t matter one way or the other.
The infant Nepali democracy has had to repeatedly pay for such person-centric politics. Yet our leaders refuse to abandon their old habits. In their single-minded focus on power, they are also likely to make grave errors that could harm national interest. For instance, PM Dahal apparently wants to hold the first phase of election on May 14 in six provinces; with the second election in Province 2 to be held at a future date. This will be disastrous. Holding the first phase in the rest of the country and the second phase only in Province 2, the only Madheshi-majority province, will reinforce the old message that Kathmandu discriminates against Madheshis. Extremist forces in Madhesh will have a field day as they convince common Madheshis that for the second phase the whole of Tarai-Madhesh will be garrisoned by security forces that are freed up after the first phase. And what is the point of election in a ‘police state’? Hence, if possible, election in all seven provinces should take place on May 14 itself. If that is not possible, hold the first phase in three or four provinces and the second phase in the remaining provinces.
The worst course of action would be to defer the whole election, thereby putting all three sets of elections in jeopardy. If this happens, and these elections are not completed by the mandatory January 2018 constitutional deadline, there could be as yet unimaginable consequences. We thus hope that this unpopular option is off the table. But there is no harm in two-phase election if it helps bring the Madheshi parties on board. Even in this case, the second phase should take place as close to the first phase as possible, for the monsoon will start only a month after the first phase. Yet, as unlikely as it seems, the best course remains getting everything done and dusted with in one go, on May 14.