As Nepal is close to holding the first phase of elections for the local bodies, the uncertainty continues to lurk in the minds of people. At a time when Nepal’s political transition is running into a new kind of constitutional and political stalemate, the uncertainty about the local election is understandable.
There are four issues to dominate the political course in the coming weeks. First, the resignation of prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and handover of power to Sher Bahadur Deuba as per their prior understanding, holding free and fair local polls and counting votes, impeachment motion and constitution amendment bill.
Politics is heating up in a succession of big events, one after another. Just two days ahead of the date for candidates to file their nominations, 249 members representing Nepali Congress and Maoist Center tabled an impeachment motion against chief justice Sushila Karki.
Following the registration of the impeachment motion, RPP-Nepal pulled out of the government citing that the act was against the spirit of an independent judiciary. Similarly, Minister for Home Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister Bimlendra Nidhi also tendered his resignation, pushing the political drama towards a new climax.
With the constitution amendment bill lying in the Legislature Parliament, a strong group of Madhesh-based parties has decided to stay out of elections. Newly merged Madhesh parties under the banner of the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal have already announced that they will boycott even the second round of elections in case the three big parties do not move the constitution amendment bill ahead.
“Three parties have been cheating Madhesh time and again. If they do not amend the constitution, we will not allow the second round of elections to happen,” said Rajendra Mahato.
This is one part of the current politics. Political tensions have already been erupting within the ruling parties. As per the gentle agreement, Maoist center leader and prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has to resign from the post and hand over his position to Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba following the first phase elections.
In case Prachanda resigns and Deuba fails to secure the magic number of 297, which is unlikely given the current political equation where RPP Nepal and Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (Democratic) have their reservation, there will be another constitutional crisis. In a scenario in which no party secures the majority, can Prime Minister Prachanda recommend the dissolution of the house and seek fresh elections?
Following the tabulation of impeachment motion, the relations between Supreme Court and Legislature Parliament have already chilled. In this context, Supreme Court is unlikely to revive the House in case President Bidya Devi Bhandary dissolves it under the recommendation of prime minister.
Given the current state of chill in the relations between CPN-UML and NC, CPN-UML is likely to back president Bhandary, who will be at the center of politics with the dissolution of Legislature Parliament.
There is a possibility of new street agitations following the elections as well. Demanding withdrawal of the impeachment motion against chief justice Karki, a group of civil society members led by former chief justice Kalyan Shrestha has already called upon people to stage street agitations against the established parties.
With the new alliances brewing, the country’s traditionally strong major parties Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, Maoist Center and RPP-Nepal are likely to win most of the positions using their money, manipulation and muscle power. This will give the fuel to smaller parties like Sajha and Bibekshil, which are popular in social media, to instigate public unrest by taking the civil society groups in their stride.
Although Nepal’s development partners UN, EU, United States of America, including Japan have welcomed the process of local elections and expressed their continual support, they are stressing that the elections should be inclusive.
Political Stand Off
Given the standoff in the parliament among the three major parties over the issue of constitution amendment, it is unlikely for the amendment bill to pass through the Legislature Parliament.
As the newly unified Rastriya Janata Party Nepal, mainly of the Madhesh parties, has made it clear that it will oppose any poll before the amendment to the constitution, the elections going to be held next week are sure to pose a serious question about the legitimacy of the very exercise.
Given the fast developing political twists and turns, four political scenarios are impending. For one, the first phase of elections will be held smoothly and peacefully so the parties will prepare for the second round with amendment of the constitution. This will be the safest course. However, the scenario is far-fetched because the CPN-UML has already decided to oppose the amendment bill.
As Nepali Congress and Maoist Center are making alliances in many districts, they are likely to give a tough challenge to CPN-UML leaders. With the incumbency advantage of being in power, the alliance between NC and Maoist Center may wipe out CPN-UML and RPP from many places.
If CPN-UML and RPP lose the elections badly they will launch street protests. Having already made the issue of impeachment against the chief justice as a big political agenda, CPN-UML and RPP-Nepal, with a section of civil society, can create political troubles.
In case the constitution amendment fails, the Madhesis are likely to call mass protests and boycott the polls. In this scenario, there will be more violence followed by questions about the legitimacy of the elections.
“We are filing the nominations in the second phase hoping that major political parties will pass the amendment bill before the elections. If the constitution is not amended, we will not allow holding of the elections for another round," said leader of Federal Socialist Alliance Upendra Yadav. Boycotting the first phase, the leaders of the newly formed Rastriya Janata Party Nepal will choose to go more violent.
The constitution amendment bill and the impeachment motion are two swords hanging over the country. Given more anarchy and street protests, a neutral government formed with the backing of the security forces cannot be ruled out.
As the political process is heading in an uncertain direction, CPN-UML has clearly moved a petition in the Supreme Court against the impeachment motion. If the current acting chief justice dismisses the petition, CPN-UML will be likely to file another impeachment motion.
If revenge politics gains a foothold, one cannot rule out a spree of impeachment motions being filed against who knows whom. Although the current procedures of the impeachment motion were set following the impeachment motion filed against CIAA chief Lokman Singh Karki by Maoist Center and CPN-UML, the motion has now turned everyone into uncertain public position holder.
Although an overwhelming number of people joined in filing the nominations for the first phase elections on May 2, this has not completely assured the people that the elections will be held on the proposed date of May 14.
As the elections will be held for over 11,000 candidates, the political parties will mobilize the people from the grass roots, making the grass roots mobilization effort the biggest in two decades.
Despite the sudden festivity of so many candidates filing nominations, the Madhesh alliance did not field their candidates.
According to Election Commission, over 2000 candidates filed their nominations for mayor and deputy mayor, ward members of 283, metropolitan, municipality and village municipalities in 283 positions of 34 districts of three provinces 3, 4 and 6.
The election will be held for mayor, deputy mayor, ward chair and member in 4 metropolitan, 1 sub metropolitan, 92 municipalities and 186 village municipalities.
There were candidates of 123 ward chairs in Metropolitan, 19 sub metropolitan, 1091 municipalities and 1365 rural municipal units. The elections will also be held for 10932 ward members, that is, four for each ward.
At a time when the political forces are pursuing elections as well as trying to postpone them on an equal footing, the uncertainty about the elections is a natural outcome. A strong political force from Nepal’s southern plains, which continues to put the amendment of constitution as the prerequisite for their participation in elections, has already rendered the prospects of elections to be anything other than inclusive.