Polls Announced

It is difficult to say whether the Madheshi leaders are aware of the political cost and benefits of this policy of geographical segregation and detachment but one thing that can be concluded with certainty is that, if put to referendum, such an inten

March 10, 2017, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.10,No. 14. March 10,2017, (Falgun 27, 2073)

After see-sawing with major opposition party and the agitating Madhesh-based parties somewhat alternately  on issues related to polls and amendment of the constitution for months, Prime Minister Dahal decided to have local level elections before the amendment, seemingly at the cost of further offending the disgruntled leaders. This announcement was preceded by several rounds of his formal and informal discussions with the agitators who appear hail bent on not budging an inch from their stance of not participating in the polls without amendment of the constitution along the lines suggested by them. The ruling coalition is still trying to persuade the infuriated leaders but assurances of post-poll amendment are not likely to make any positive impact as far as their participation is concerned. Many had hoped that the Madhesh-based parties would backtrack a bit like UML, which decided that it would let deliberations on the amendment bill move ahead but would stay out of the process. This is a well calculated gesture from the major opposition party, which had blocked the House proceedings for weeks, at a time when some coalition partners have begun to vent their dissatisfaction with the original amendment bill. As a result of this new move by UML, deliberations on the constitution amendment bill finally started almost three months after its registration and forty-five days after it was tabled in Parliament. Main opposition UML, coalition partner RPP and some fringe parties boycotted the amendment process. Altogether fifteen amendment proposals were registered by lawmakers on constitution amendment. A majority of Madhesh-based parties have proposed delineating the entire tarai region into two provinces and want no parts of hills seen in the tarai districts in the new federal set up. Amendment proposals registered by lawmakers of other political parties also have demanded revision of provincial boundaries.Dahal made it very clear that he wanted to handle issues phase-wise like addressing the possible issues from among the amendment proposals registered on the amendment bill now and the rest would be addressed after the government could ensure two-thirds majority.Dahal is right in his argument that there is no point in insisting on endorsement of a modified proposal at a time when even partners in government are not willing to vote for it. Sensing serious differences even amongst partners in government on the amendment question, a buoyed UML appeared further determined not to let the constitution amendment get through, hopefully without resorting to obstructions.UML has moved very well strategically so far, showing adequate level of flexibility and seems to have lawmakers on its side adequate to outnumber in the House those in favour of amendment. Therefore, Prime Minister’s idea of moving phase-wise is not unreasonable but the concerned leaders are adamant about getting the constitution amended completely detaching tarai from the hills prior to polls.It is difficult to say whether the Madheshi leaders are aware of the political cost and benefits of this policy of geographical segregation and detachment but one thing that can be concluded with certainty is that, if put to referendum, such an intention of some leaders will suffer humiliating defeat in Madhesh itself, let alone the entire nation and its people who want to leave peacefully together. The disgruntled leaders should not forget that the government also formed a task force to settle the dispute over local units, after they objected to the Commission (LLRC) report. Based on the recommendation of the task force, government has already made a decision to add 25 local level units to the number (719) recommended by the Commission, 21 being added to Province 2.This is indeed in line with the assurance that their concern about inadequacy of village and municipal councils in certain areas would be addressed.

The task force members had made it clear in their discussions with politicians that the number of local units would not be increased beyond 744.Expectedly, Province 2 has been the major beneficiary of this increase in local units. These adjustments, however, are not likely to make any change in the rigid stance of leaders who have even termed the LLRC report as incomplete as it has not fixed the number of special, protected and autonomous regions.  It may be noted that major political parties are gearing up for their nationwide campaigns, with UML already in the field under its Mechi Mahakali National Campaign and termed by Morcha leaders wasted no time in terming it ill-timed and provocative. Indeed, K.P. Oli-led UML had tactically outsmarted other parties and it looked like Deuba-led Nepali Congress will have to struggle a lot to maintain its number one position in different levels of election hoped to be held in less than one year. It is not, however, going to be a cake walk for UML either, which has serious differences with Madhesh-based parties since long, and these are on the rise after the sad Saptari incident of March 6 in which 3 people died and many sustained bullet injuries. It may be noted that the agitating parties had announced various protest programmes coinciding with dates and venue of UML’s functions in tarai.The loss of life occurred after police resorted to firing following a clash between them and protesters of Morcha. As directed by their leaders, the Morcha workers were protesting against a mass meeting of UML and the sad incident is said to have occurred after the conclusion of the programme when protesters hurled petrol bombs at security forces injuring them. Expectedly, Morcha condemned police firing in Saptari and decided to call general strikes in the region for two days to protest the incident.Morcha leaders have also called on all to exercise restraint. The UML has also decided to put its campaign on hold for three days. Hope sense prevails upon leaders of two groups at opposite poles to avoid further confrontation and bloodshed. Things will have to be brought to normal well before other political parties, readying for elections, also launch their campaign and get dragged into this thus far bilateral conflict (Morcha and UML).Showing further signs of flexibility, UML may have to put on hold its campaign for some more days and make concrete efforts to sit for a meaningful dialogue with Morcha leaders who should also withdraw their instructions to its affiliates in the field to launch protest against polls. After the mishap, tarai is tense with Morcha cadres resorting to arson and vandalism. Leaders have to understand that their intention to boycott and disrupt the polls will not do them good politically. It would also not be inappropriate to advice them to participate in the polls because they must be aware of the cost that Mohan Baidya Kiran has had to incur as a result of his party’s nonparticipation in the second polls to Constituent Assembly. Thanks God people still remember the legendary Kiran but not many are aware that he still heads a party as well. It seems Madhesh-based parties have no choice but to sit with UML and also begin to trust Dahal,ignoring his  seesawing and flip-flopping as circumstantial, that he is sincerely interested in holding polls before relinquishing power and the amendment bill will be put to vote at an appropriate time. The disgruntled leaders may also note that the three major parties cannot differ publicly, despite being engaged in competition for political gains, on the question of polls, which, however, look increasingly difficult to be held on the announced date after the sad incident of Saptari. Morcha will have to be taken into confidence by the major political actors, no matter how much time and efforts it requires, and the disgruntled leaders should immediately stop their workers from resorting to violence because along with political problems serious economic problems of this country need leaders’ much awaited serious attention.

It is encouraging that Nepal Investment Summit was held recently in Nepal for the second time since first one was organized in the 1990s.A total of 775 delegates, including 280 foreign investors, gathered in the dusty Kathmandu to pledge 13.5 billion dollar, which is more than half Nepal’s gdp of Rs.2249 billion($ 21billion).In addition to this huge pledging, another significant achievement of this gathering has been the commitment of political leaders that they remain united in welcoming foreign investment, despite ideological differences. Showing interest in hydropower, airport, railways, drinking water, healthcare and mineral, Chinese companies made huge commitments accounting for about 61 percent of the total. In order to actualize this desire of investors, government of Nepal will have to make many improvements in many areas giving special attention to reform in existing laws, improvement in deteriorating conditions of road infrastructure and paying attention to the much talked about rampant corruption at different levels. We should be happy that despite several odds, investors chose this country as one of the major investment points. Let us also try to review our experience with regard to pledging and actual disbursement by donors to help us carry out post-earthquake rehabilitation and reconstruction works. It is believed that slow progress has hindered speedy disbursement of some 4 billion dollars committed by bilateral and multilateral donors in an international gathering organized here soon after the devastating quake some two years ago. It will be wise to learn from the past and move ahead steadily. At the moment, both Nepal Rastra Bank and Nepal Government will have to further intensify their efforts not to let the prevailing liquidity crunch take an alarming proportion.

Dr. Tilak Rawal

Dr. Tilak Rawal

Dr. Rawal is former governor of NRB.

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