Second phase election
As the country gears up for the second phase of local election on June 14, there continue to be doubts if the scheduled election will take place on time. One reason for this is that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is expected to step down in the next few days, vacating the PMO for Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba. Even Dahal has said that it is Deuba who will conduct the second phase of local election. There is always a great deal of uncertainty surrounding government change in Nepal and hence there are fears that the incumbent prime minister’s resignation could impact election. But since both Messrs Dahal and Deuba seem equally committed to the June 14 election, if the current ruling coalition remains intact, it shouldn’t be that big a hassle to press ahead with the second phase. Since the main opposition, CPN UML, is also strongly in favor of the June 14 vote, we don’t see the possibility of unexpected overnight coalitions emerging to torpedo the election. The bigger danger is of the six Madhes-based parties arrayed under the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) disrupting the second phase, as they have repeatedly threatened to do.
But, increasingly, it appears like the RJPN is fighting a losing battle. Without going into the validity of its demands, what it cannot deny is that an overwhelming majority of Nepalis are in favor of timely election. If it decides to disrupt the election in this environment, the strategy could backfire, as even the little support it still has with the Madhesis could evaporate. It would thus be wise of RJPN to take part in the second phase. Even if the ruling coalition wants to amend the constitution to the liking of Madhesi parties, the coalition simply does not have the required number of parliamentary votes. In that case, there are only two options for the government. One is to press ahead with poll preparations and ensure the success of the June 14 vote, thereby giving new life to local governance in Nepal and a new lease of hope to the 28 million Nepalis. Meanwhile, the small Madhesi forces can go to the people with their grievances. The other option is to postpone the second phase, and thereby invite a serious constitutional crisis: if the second phase is postponed it is near certain that the three sets of elections can’t be completed by the January 2018 constitutional deadline.
The choice is a no-brainer. And this is precisely why the government must now look to ensure that the second phase goes ahead peacefully and that the shortcomings witnessed during the first phase—lack of voter education, the inexplicable delay in the counting of votes—will be removed in the second phase. With nearly two-thirds of all eligible Nepali voters casting their ballots in the second phase, the second phase is vastly more important than the first phase. There will also be many more potential flashpoints. This is why the preparation should be meticulous. Most important, the government will have to get its security arrangements nearly perfectly right. The second phase on June 14 will present a huge logistical and security challenge. We hope the ruling coalition is up to it and will ensure that all eligible Nepalis can exercise their sovereign right to vote without any kind of fear or intimidation.