Despite growing skepticism amongst people about timely elections as demanded by the Constitution, top leaders of major parties have not stopped talking about their ability to organize elections at three levels in the remaining sixteen months. People, however, have not taken their utterances seriously because they are acquainted with leaders’ habit of baselessly promising to deliver something on the stipulated time and repeatedly failing to do so: the repeated failure to deliver constitution on the promised dates is a case in point. Several reasons can be given to convince the concerned that elections look very difficult in the timeline that people think they should be held.
The Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC), said to have completed around 60 percent of local level restructuring work, was given a new terms of reference (TOR), as per the understanding\agreement reached among three major parties. After questioning the government’s right to dictate a constitutional body and ask it to fix the number of local bodies by changing its TOR it decided to compromise after the government’s decision to make area clusters (IL akas) one of the basis for fixing the number of local bodies. The Commission had made it public that it will be difficult to submit the report by the extended deadline because data on population, area and economic resources of the lakes were not made available despite several request/reminder to the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development. Many of us thought that it would be difficult for the Commission to accomplish its task well before mid-March so that the government could hold first tier poll, local level, by mid-April. Contrary to this expectation, however, the Commission seems to have made commendable progress as it has already made public the revised criteria for fixing the number of local units. Accordingly, for a village council, the size of population is fixed at 13000 in mountain and 22000 and 40000 in hill and Tarai districts, respectively. For each municipal council, the population size has to be 17000, 31000 and 60000 for each geographic region, respectively. The new number proposed by the Commission is 744 at maximum. This work of the Commission, however, is not likely to contribute towards making headway in the current stalemate because Madhesi leaders have promptly reacted against this proposal, accusing the Commission and the three major parties of deliberately trying to disenfranchise Madhes and constituencies there. They also argue that it is senseless to try to determine the number and boundaries of local bodies when the number of federal province is still uncertain. In addition to this problem that has got to do with the work of the reoriented Commission, several cases can be cited to suggest that holding of elections as said is not going to be an easy task.
Madhes-centric parties continue to accuse the government of not recognizing the seriousness of their demand and threaten to withdraw their support to the government and launch fresh protests. They have also made it very clear that they would not wait beyond Chhath, a festival widely celebrated by Madhesis in Madhes and living elsewhere in Nepal. Timelines set by Prime Minister have expired many a times in the past and the recent assurance from him is that the work on constitution amendment proposal is progressing and the bill would be registered before the Chhath festival to be observed on November 6.Madhesi leaders, however, are not prepared to buy his statement in Parliament that the proposal is in the final stage because no sufficient homework has happened for that. Moreover, what Prachanda should not fail to understand is the fact that constitution implementation is not going to be easy even if he succeeds in resolving the Madhes crisis because a number of other issues related to the constitution will continue to warrant serious attention of the concerned.
The demand that Nepal should be declared a Hindu state is gaining momentum. Kamal Thapa-led RPP-Nepal is the only party that kept on pushing this view, despite approving the constitution that declared Nepal a secular state. Although no major party seems to be in favor of pushing this idea officially, it is interesting that some influential leaders of the largest party have begun to support, albeit informally, this proposition. Recent observations of NC General Secretary Sasanka Koirala have provided strength to leaders like Khum Bahadur Khadka who has been campaigning since long to declare Nepal a Hindu state. Sasanka Koirala who has demanded referendum on this issue could be joined by others who would like other important issues also to be tested. Looks like people extending tacit support to religion issue abound in NC.Situation is complex. It is difficult to understand how Parchanda will handle the situation at a time when some of his close associates have made highly obnoxious utterances, that intend to undermine the religious significance of our great festival Dashin, coinciding with period of its observance.Prachanda should note that Hindus of Nepal have taken very seriously these feelings of his subordinates and his own seeking redefinition of the festival. Looks like Prachanda will have to pay a huge political cost one more time when elections are held. People also wonder, with these kinds of observations from no less a person than Prime Minister of Nepal and his associates, how can one think of achieving unity amongst political parties, which is very much required to implement the constitution.
Dr. Bhattari probably was the first leader in recent months to talk about the need to have directly elected president instead of the instability-breeding West Ministerial system that we have been practicing and is provisioned in the new constitution. He believes that this system of governance ensures stability very much required for economic prosperity of Nepal, which has been made the singular agenda of his party. Leaders of Bhattari’s status and level from UML have also spoken in favour of presidential system of governance. Prime Minister Dahal has gone on record recently that they have accepted the current system because they were pushed into a situation where they had no choice but to abandon the much-adored presidential system. He has made it very clear that his party will go for it given an opportunity. If UML and the Maoist Center decide to go for it in a strong way, this might create a serious tussle between them and Nepali Congress which does not seem to be interested in switching to the proposed new system. No leader from the party has so far spoken in favour of replacing the current system and the party is not likely to budge from the position taken. Divergence of opinion between NC on one side and other major parties on the other is likely to breed further confusion at a time when unity amongst parties is a must to resolve issues facing the nation. It is almost certain that resolution of issues related to Madhes per se will not create a situation where everything else will proceed unhindered. Grave issues are surfacing and it cannot also be said with certainty that amendment proposal to resolve issues of Madhes will be placed and passed soon. New dates are announced and Prachanda has made it clear that it is difficult to get things done achieving consent of the concerned. The impeachment motion registered in the Parliament against Lok Man Singh Karki, Chief Commissioner of CIAA, and major leaders’ concentration on the issue has made the situation further fluid as parties and leaders seem to be divided on this issue. This has definitely deflected attention of our leaders from the burning political agenda of the country.
Political instability has continued to inflict injury on Nepal’s economy. With the sole exception of inflation, which has moderated a bit recently, no other positive economic parameters are available to derive some solace from. Balance of Payment has remained negative for two months in a row, reaching Rs. 3 billion in the second month of this fiscal year. Trade deficit has increased by 48.1 percent to reach Rs. 125 billion at that point of time. If this situation continues for some more time and remittances continue to decelerate, our economy may be hit very hard. Are we slowly getting into a Dutch Disease kind of situation where a particular economy goes through a painful process of adjustment after a major source of external resource inflow dries up? It’s time that we gave some thought to it. For now we have no choice but to agree with Nepal Rastra Bank which believes expected increase in agricultural products and increasing number of tourists arriving in the country would help economy perform satisfactorily in days ahead.