Redrawing local units
With the deadline for the submission of the final report on the restructuring of local federal units set to expire on Tuesday, the commission has been working on a war-footing. Members of the commission have soldered on even as disagreements with the way they have gone about their business get louder. It seems only CPN-UML is completely happy with the commission’s furious work-rate. Nepali Congress, the largest parliamentary party, has expressed its reservations with the standards the commission is using to redraw local level units. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s CPN (Maoist Center) is also of the view that local boundaries should be redrawn only on the basis of broad political consultations. The Madhesh-based parties, for their part, have been consistently asking the commission to halt its work as they too believe that the standards being used for redrawing local bodies are ‘unscientific’ and ‘biased’ against Madhesh. We also don’t see how the government will be able to hold local elections based on new demarcations if those demarcations are rejected by most political parties.
But it is not just political parties that are opposed to the current process of redrawing local units. There have been clashes in various places among locals and commission officials as the locals felt that they had not been consulted. So as much as we would like to see prompt local-level elections—it is ludicrous that the country has not had local level elections since 1997—such an election would be a meaningless exercise unless it has the support and participation of a wider segment of the society. Otherwise, instead of contributing to the democratic process it will further divide the society. This is why the commission would be advised to halt its work for a while and engage all the stakeholders who will be directly affected by redrawing of local level administrative units. To do so there is no harm in delaying local elections by a few months. If there is broad agreement on demarcation of local and federal units, holding the three sets of elections in the next 20 months—as stipulated by the new constitution—should not be that difficult. But without such agreement the process of redrawing old boundaries is likely to invite more problems than it could solve.
With a change in government there is now real hope that the seemingly intractable problems in Madhesh could finally be solved. The first priority of Prime Minister Dahal and his government should thus be to resolve the outstanding constitutional issues on the basis of political consultation. For this it needs to create an atmosphere of trust. To do so it should order the commission to halt its work for a while and consult all stakeholders. Botched local level elections, arguably, will be worse than having no election at all. Again, bridging the existing social and political divides—not widening them further—is the need of the hour. Only the elections that are owned up and supported by political parties and the people alike will serve this purpose.