Election nomination day
It was simply amazing to witness the great enthusiasm with which leaders of political parties and independent candidates on Tuesday filed their nominations for the first phase, on May 14, of local elections. Up for grabs in the first phase are 283 local level units and 2,598 wards spread across 34 districts of federal provinces number 3, 4 and 5. Tuesday’s developments have done a lot to dispel lingering doubts over local elections. The list of candidates is easily the most diverse and inclusive in the democratic history of Nepal.
The Election Act requires that women occupy 50 percent of total number of chiefs and deputy chiefs of local bodies and 40 percent of chiefs and deputy chiefs of wards under these bodies. Likewise, members from dalits, janajatis and other marginalized groups must also be represented in the elected bodies. Not just that. People from every age group and every income bracket have filed their candidacy. There is finally tangible hope among Nepalis that local level elections will finally be held after a gap of 20 years, and with this they will get to experience local government, many for the first time in their lives.
Timely local elections were starting to seem unrealistic given the prolonged impasse over the amendment of the constitution to meet the demands of the protesting Madhesi and Janajati outfits. People feared the worst: no local election, the expiry of the constitutional deadline for the three sets of elections, continued meddling of foreign forces, and, ultimately, the failure of the new constitution. But if the first phase of local election on May 14 can be held peacefully, it will give a message of hope, the hope that end may be nigh to the protracted political and constitutional crisis. And if this happens, Nepal will have a realistic chance of achieving sustained economic growth, and lasting peace and prosperity for all its citizens. The good news is that the economy is already showing signs of revival: the CBS expects it to grow by nearly 7 percent this fiscal, in sharp contrast to less than 1 percent growth in the previous fiscal. Inflation, which had been in double digits for most of the past decade, is down to 3 percent. Now if the three sets of elections can also be successfully held, then we really might have a shot at graduating to the status of a ‘developing country’ by the target 2022 deadline.
But there is a long way to go before that. Our immediate concern has to be holding free and fair election on May 14. This will entail a robust security arrangement, unprecedented mobilization of (and coordination between) temporary police and volunteers, an as big awareness campaign to educate voters, and getting the election logistics in place for the first-of-its-kind local election in Nepal. The Election Commission must also do a better job of making political parties strictly follow election code of conduct. If the election team under Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal can pull this off by defying the odds, it will be a big feather in the cap of the veteran Maoist leader. Mired though he currently is in the controversy over impeachment of the Chief Justice, Dahal will also get the credit for pushing the stalled national politics forward, along with Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav. All the more reason for Dahal and co to wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to the May 14 vote.