Despite people from around the country, from the inhabitants of the high hills to the dwellers of the low-lying plains, saying with one voice that they want timely election, the fate of the local election scheduled for May 14 is again uncertain. The Madheshi Morcha on Wednesday decided to formally boycott it. The Madheshi parties have also rejected the proposed third amendment of the constitution that was registered in the parliament on Tuesday. The Madheshi parties have been obdurate and could show more flexibility considering that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been trying valiantly to get them on board, even risking his political career in the process. But the big parties—Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center) in the government and CPN-UML in the opposition—have also been rather dishonest in the way they have gone about negotiations with Madheshi forces. The resulting political logjam, we are afraid, could ultimately deprive the people of their sovereign right to vote. And if the three sets of elections cannot be held by the January 2018 constitutional deadline, a dangerous political void will be created, with as yet unforeseeable consequences.
This is why at least the four major forces that take ownership of post-2006 changes—Congress, UML, Maoists and Madheshi parties—must show prudence while they still have time. Morcha’s strategy of constantly shifting goalposts is unhelpful as the other side never knows what will be acceptable to them, thereby complicating negotiations. But the leaders of the Big Three have also behaved irresponsibly. For instance, the Madheshi parties were reportedly in a mood to take part in the May 14 election if the number of local level units in Tarai-Madhesh was increased to reflect the greater population of the plains. But during recent negotiations Congress leaders in particular ruled out any such revisions of the number of local units. This is because such revisions could take time and Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba seems to be in no mood to wait for much longer to replace Dahal as prime minister. So there is pressure on Dahal to hold local election on May 14, come hell or high water, and to leave office the very next day. The main opposition, UML, had also hinted that it too was not ready for any substantive constitutional changes before May 14.
As a result the Madheshi parties felt the big parties were not serious about giving them a credible face-saver with which they could go to local election. Whether or not you agree with all the demands of Madheshi parties, as a side to the negotiations it is reasonable to assume that they expect some of their demands to be met. Otherwise, why talk at all? There is still time to convince the Madheshi parties to come around and to hold at least the first phase of local election on May 14. The second phase can then be held, again in agreement with Madheshi parties, in the areas not covered in the first phase. National politics is again headed for a collision course and a possible political void. This is not in the interest any of our major democratic forces whose very existence hinges on their ability to cement recent changes.