How do you see the possibility of holding the elections? Has the passing of the three bills increased the possibility of holding the elections?
This is the right time to discuss the issue of election. Following the promulgation of the constitution in 1990, Nepal had held two elections for local bodies, three parliamentary elections and two elections for Constituent Assembly. For the last 19 years, however, Nepal has been unable to hold the elections for local bodies. Although we claim to be a democratic country, we have not been able to consolidate the democracy at the grassroots. Almost one million workers of various political parties are now jobless because of the state's failure to hold the elections and four million Nepalese youths have gone overseas for work. This, itself, is a good reason for the country to hold the elections. Despite having laws and the constitution, Nepal is unable to hold the elections due to the inability of the political parties. Although the constitution demands periodical elections, political parties are undermining them.
How many acts are required for this purpose?
There is a need for up to 10 Acts to hold all three levels of elections, local, provincial, and central - including for the Lower and Upper House. Five of them are already in the final stages of being enacted and the remaining are under consideration by the various government bodies. If the political parties show their serious concern, the parliament can pass all these acts in a matter of days. Since the constitution has a mandatory provision to hold all three elections by January 21, 2018, political parties will have to pass all these bills to hold the elections. There is a clear mandate and the parliament cannot overlook it. Given the track record of political leaders, the new constitution had fixed the date for elections of all three bodies to make the constitution functional. Generally, such provisions are not written in the constitution.
Are elections a legal process only?
Elections are political as well as legal process. There is the need to have political commitment as well as meeting the legal obligations. First and foremost is the strong commitment of political parties. After this, there is the need of laws to support them. Legal process has already taken its course. Due to political interference, we are unable to hold the elections -- because our political leadership lacks the self-confidence.
Political parties are unable to decide whether to hold polls for the local bodies or local levels. How do you look at this?
At present, there is no dilemma over this. There must be elections for local level bodies as proposed by the constitution. Given the report tabled by Local Bodies Restructuring Commission, the elections will be held for local level bodies. The past structure of local bodies has no place at present. Nepal Law Society demanded in 2007 the need to hold local level elections for a temporary period. However, it was delayed because of the opposition by the Maoists, who stressed that the elections can be held only after restructuring the local bodies. Even during the tenure of Nepali Congress and CPN-UML government, they presented the bills and acts in the parliament to hold the local level elections. Again, they aborted this for unknown reasons. The article 303 of the constitution has made it clear that past local level institutions are dissolved following the presentation of report by Local Bodies Restructuring Commission. Despite disputes over boundary and number of local bodies, the committee has submitted its report; but the government is yet to take its ownership. As the report is with the government, there is no way other than to hold the elections as per the report presented by the committee.
How do you see the structure of Nepalese politics?
It is a harsh reality of Nepal that the course of Nepalese politics is determined by a handful of politicians of major political parties. They appear to be above the constitution and laws. What I used to say in the past was that there was only one King and now we have many kings. The mentality of declaring themselves as above the King is against democratic spirit of Nepal. As the Commission has already presented its report, the current local level bodies no longer exist constitutionally. They drafted the constitution with Article 303. In this situation, they cannot say that they cannot hold the elections of local level. What government now needs to do is to publish the report and dissolve the previous local bodies.
As per the provision of the constitution, do you see the possibility to hold the elections of all three tiers?
Constitutionally and legally, there is no hindrance to hold the elections. It is possible to hold the elections. It is again the question of political determination. All eight bills related to elections are in the legislative process. The Demarcation of Constituencies of Province Bill and Provincial Elections Bill are left. The government can announce the elections date for local bodies at any time. As political parties are pressing for elections and the constitution and acts are there, nothing is preventing the government to hold the elections for local bodies. There is a problem to hold the elections for provinces and House of Representatives now as parliament is yet to pass those laws.
What do you say about the capability of the Election Commission?
Although the commission is demanding minimum 90 days to prepare for the elections, there were many instances in the past when the commission held the elections in fewer than 60 days. One cannot justify postponing the elections showing the technical reasons. We can hold the elections even up to middle of June. As the legal process has already moved, nothing can prevent holding the elections for local bodies. There is a problem of budget. However, the budget can also be arranged if the government shows the commitment to hold the elections. Even if there is no budget, the government can bring supplementary budget as well. The budget cannot obstruct the elections. The tragedy of Nepalese politics is the growing mentality among the political leaders to judge the elections on the basis of their own personal or party’s benefits. Once the political parties hold the elections, over 300,000 workers will be involved in the political process at the local level. Just recently, the Election Commission got all its commissioners. It also has opened branches in all districts. Therefore, I think the Commission is in good position.
Why are political leaders reluctant to hold the elections?
Our political leaders want to make their workers barefoot followers just carrying party pamphlets of the leaders. Once the elections of local bodies are held, the workers become free and independent. Due to lapse of election for local level for a long time, we have seen how even a political worker who doesn’t have the capacity to contest the elections for ward chair, has demanded a seat of a CA membership. Had there been elections for the local bodies, the parties would not have faced such difficulty. The pressure on center is growing because that is a place where the elections have not been held in the last two decades. By holding the elections for local bodies, the parties can convert their petty workers as legitimate elected representatives. Local government is a permanent government and change in the central government cannot make much of a difference to them. Elections of local government mean the government at your door, which can provide all kinds of services, their delivery and development. Besides, due to lack of election, the youths, women, Dalits, Janajatis have not been able to develop their leadership within their political parties.
If the elections of the three tiers are not held by January 21, 2018, what will be the constitutional implications?
Given the past experience, what I can say is that nothing will happen. Sky will not fall. Our leaders will table the amendment constitution at midnight to extend the tenure to another year, narrating the incident. Our people are simple and they will accept it as in the past. Our people are so helpless that they don’t have other options than face it. People backed the parties, which were elected for two years in first CA, even as they extended their own tenure for another two years. We backed the parties even though they failed to promulgate the constitution. We supported the parties again to hold the second CA election. Nepalese are helpless and weak people in that sense.
Don’t you think they can make some miracles happen?
Our leaders sometimes make miracles happen, such as when people and neighbors were expecting that the parties will not promulgate the new constitution, they promulgated it, in the midst of massive protests from the opponents. Four or five leaders of political parties hold the view that they can do whatever they want. This is a very unfortunate aspect. According to the constitution, the tenure of the transformed house, the Legislature Parliament, is two years. By January 21, 2018, the parties have to hold the elections of all three tiers. There is no provision for extension. However, I am confident that they will extend the tenure if the need arises.
Don’t you think Nepal will face a more severe political crisis in case there is no election by January 21?
Nepal has been passing through a political transition for over six decades. We all are enjoying this. Had we been under the rule of law and constitution, we would have held the elections by now and started the implementation of the constitution.
Who do you blame it on?
We don’t have active voters, citizens and civil society members. Political leaders are taking the benefits of this vacuum. However, the situation is now different. Recently, former chief justices, judges, former chiefs of election commission, former secretaries and other people from different walks of life have started a campaign to speak the voice of the people to hold the elections. As legislature, executive and judiciary are unable to address the problems of people; the groups representing all senior and respected citizens are championing their cause. They are calling on the 15 million voters to come to the street and press the government on this. The pressure is building now. The international community should also support the citizens for their calls for early elections.
As Madheshis and Janjatis want amendment of the constitution before the elections, is it possible to hold the elections before the amendment of constitution?
The six decades long wait to see the constitution promulgated by CA was fulfilled when ninety percent of representatives supported the constitution. However, there was opposition as well from a section of population. Nepal Law Society has been working in all 14 districts through the Civic Initiative Forum (CIC) supporting the implementation of the constitutional provisions. We have been organizing citizen dialogue programs through Citizen Forum in all 75 districts to discuss on the disputed issues of constitution and a program in the center through the Legislature Parliament Secretariat. Legislature Parliament has already made the first amendment. Now, the bill was tabled for second amendment on five issues. However, there are certain issues, which the current transformed parliament cannot amend, like the boundary of provinces. This parliament does not have the right to amend the constitution. I am not saying that this constitution cannot be amended but there are processes for that. What we have been saying is that there is the need to have the demarcation between those who accept the constitution as a complete document and those who see this as an incomplete document seeking amendment. Those who are demanding amendment should table their amendment. Meanwhile, if there is delay in political understanding, elections can be held in two phases – first phase in hills and second in Terai.
As you said, Nepal Law Society has been organizing programs in various parts of Nepal to generate awareness on constitution and law at local levels; don’t you have such programs for central leaders?
We have been organizing such programs in the central level as well for members of parliament, high level officials and leaders of political parties. They know everything about the constitution. What I can say is that they know more than I do. For example, there is no dispute on the bill recently debated in the House. Even Madhesh-based parties are supporting the bills. This shows political leaders really know what they need to do if their interest is there.
As there is a fierce dispute between three parties and Madheshis on the constitution, do you think the election will be a solution without bringing the Madheshis on board?
I am not saying that election is possible without bringing the Madheshis on board. One cannot oppose the elections in the name amendment of the constitution. Elections of local bodies should be allowed alongside the amendment of the constitution. My suggestion would be forming a committee to discuss the amendment of boundaries of the provinces. The leaders of political parties must show sincerity to the rights of people to choose their elected representatives.