June 15, 2017 01:30 AM NPT
The second phase of local election, initially planned for June 14, was put off by a couple of weeks, to June 28, to give the protesting Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) enough time to register with the Election Commission so that it too could take part in the second phase. The other objective was to have more time to work out a negotiated settlement on the new constitution. Neither of these objectives was met. The RJPN is adamant as ever that that it would take part in the second round only if there was a prior amendment of the constitution. The new government was also banking on the Supreme Court agreeing to review its decision against increase in local level units between the two phases of local election. But the court has even refused to register the government request to ‘vacate’ its stay order against increasing the number. In other words, the two-week delay has been pointless. Now the government is thinking about again postponing the second phase, in a couple of Tarai-majority provinces if not in all four that are yet to hold local election. That would be disastrous.
Again putting off the second phase will make it impossible to hold all three sets of elections by the constitutionally-mandated January 21, 2018 deadline. As it is, it will be difficult to hold election on June 28 since the monsoon will already have started by the time. Now if the date is pushed further back, then it could fall bang in the middle of the monsoon. The other option, and the one that the RJPN favors, is to hold two or three elections together, say sometime around Dashain-Tihar. But while in theory this option is appealing, in practice it will be devilishly difficult to implement. Even with just one ballot paper in the first phase of local election on May 14, with so many parties and independent candidates in the fray, many people got confused, and there was a record number of invalid votes. With two or three ballot papers, and long ones at that, there could be even more confusion. It will also be time-consuming, as a single voter could take ten or 15 minutes to cast all votes. Besides these procedural hurdles there are also political ones.
With the main opposition, CPN-UML, vehemently against any significant revisions to federal boundaries, what is the guarantee that all outstanding political and constitutional issues will be settled in the next three or four months? And if they are not, what is the guarantee that the RJPN will accept anything less? This business of time and again postponing vital elections, ultimately, could lead to a situation of a political and constitutional vacuum after January 2018. The constitution will then be deemed to have ‘failed’ by its critics. The kind of autocracy that Nepali people fought against with their blood and sweat during the 2006 Jana Andolan could then make a sneaky comeback, imperiling all post-2006 achievements. If this happens, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba will have to shoulder the bulk of the blame. We hope PM Deuba has the foresight to avoid such a folly. In the next few days, he should make every effort to bring the RJPN on board, but if that is not possible, it is his responsibility as the prime minister to ensure that people’s sovereign right to vote is not forcefully taken away.