With the Election Commission (EC) informing the Supreme Court about its decision to print separate ballot papers for the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system for the provincial and federal elections scheduled for November 26 and December 7, it became crystal clear that the apex court would issue no further verdict\instructions which would obstruct holding of the polls on the stipulated dates. It may be recalled that the poll body had satisfactorily responded to the SC’s October 25 ruling in which it had asked to make arrangements for separate FPTP ballot papers and sought a report on progress made since its earlier ruling of October 18. Although huge sum of money already expended on the election related activities went waste, the EC promptly rose to the occasion and followed the instructions. The apex court now looks fully satisfied and appears in no mood for further intervention in matters that could create confusion amongst people about elections. It may be noted that the ruling for separate ballot papers for federal and provincial polls under the FPTP had initially alarmed politicians and other concerned alike because they knew the EC had initiated work to print the same ballot papers for elections at the two levels and it would be difficult to abide by the ruling without postponing the elections. Maoist Centre’s chairman Prachanda went to the extent of warning that Parliament could be revived if scheduled elections were postponed. On the whole, the EC seems to be moving ahead pragmatically, taking utmost care not to be dragged into any serious controversy. Certain inconsistent remarks over time of the election body have been criticized by people and the parties, mainly opposition, but there is also no dearth of people who believe that the body had appropriately decided not to take issues with the government in the greater interest of the nation. In this context, often remembered is its advice to Prime Minister Deuba, who had expanded the Cabinet ignoring the code of conduct already in force, that the decision should be rescinded as it would affect fairness and free competition in the parliamentary and provincial polls. Deuba not only turned a deaf ear to this advice but went on adding ministers till October 14, a day before the scheduled dissolution of Parliament. When approached by a curious President Bidhya Devi before administering oath to the new ministers, 8 from the RPP led by Kamal Thapa, EC told the President that although Cabinet expansion was against the code of conduct, the move will not affect the planned elections. Observers cannot help remembering the categorical statement of the body (the move violated the code of conduct and should not be repeated in future) when Deuba expanded his Cabinet on September 11. Despite sharp contrasts in the two statements of the EC in a period of about 35 days on the similar acts of the head of government, let us believe that the body understood the compulsion of Deuba and decided not to be hard on him so that it continues to get government’s support in the conduct of elections. It may be remembered that the Legislature-Parliament held its last meeting on October 14, four years after it was elected as the Constituent Assembly, which had automatically turned into the Legislature-Parliament after the constitution was promulgated on September 20, 2015.
Expectedly, candidates filed nominations for the second phase of provincial and parliamentary FPTP elections at the office of chief returning officers and returning officers of their respective districts on November 2. Nomination filing was completed peacefully in all 45 districts. Altogether 4708 candidates filed nominations for phase two elections to be held on December7.Nominations for the first phase of both the polls scheduled for November 26 were filed on October 22.All the doubts over elections have now been cleared and the nomination has ensured the formation of federal parliament and provincial assemblies. Major parties have made their election manifestos public, urging people to vote for them and promising big things and painting a rosy picture of Nepal under them. In their joint election manifesto, UML and the Maoist Center (MC) have stressed political stability and peace in the country for economic prosperity and safeguarding of the national interest. The manifesto has also stressed multi-party democracy with socialism. Nepali Congress, besides engaging in creation of assets, has promised to increase access of people to health insurance scheme and free education up to a level. Accusations leveled verbally on the left alliance have found place in the document. The two Madhesh-based parties (Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal and Federal Socialist Forum) have urged the voters to help them garner two-third majority in the Parliament so that they could amend the constitution to make it acceptable to all. It may be note that these two parties have forged an alliance in Province-2 for the elections slated for December 7 and have a common manifesto. Coming down hard on other parties, the manifesto states that the three major political parties (the NC, the UML and the MC) are not any different from each other as far as Madhesh-related issues are concerned. It states that the UML has lost the right to seek votes in the Tarai-Madhesh after it opposed constitution amendment. They are also critical of the MC that it endorsed UML’s views after they forged a left alliance with the former. They have also accused NC, once thought to lead the democratic alliance encompassing the two parties and others, as a party with conservative thinking and squarely blame the failure to form a democratic alliance on NC’s arrogance. Unfortunately, the two powerful Madhesh-based parties are no more in the alliance and the NC is left with the weakened two RPPs led by Thapa and Rana. In an article about a month ago in this fortnightly, this scribe had apprehended that NC ran the risk of being isolated as the party was not being practical to accommodate the concerns of the two parties. Instead of letting lose the Madheshi force, a win-win situation could have been worked out by Deuba-led NC. Indeed, without these two parties in the alliance, NC’s cooperation with the two RPPs is not at all worth its name- The Democratic Alliance. Many have begun to feel that this alliance led by Deuba is no match for powerful looking left alliance jointly led by Oli and Prachanda. It’s time that NC stalwarts stopped hurling difficult-to-believe accusations at the left alliance and concentrate on concrete actions to counter the electoral threat from the left. It is reported that NC and the two-Madhesh centric parties have reached a deal to help each other’s senior leaders. The NC has decided to support Mahanta Thakur in Mohattari-3 and has asked Upendra Yadav to support its candidate Pradeep Giri in Siraha-1 in exchange for its support to Yadav’s FSFN in two constituencies of Siraha (2 and 3) and Saptari-2.Wish the top leaders of the concerned three parties could extend this adjustment to cover the interest of some other relatively less resourceful contestants as well. Anyway, this recent understanding must have provided some solace to NC stalwarts who have been accusing the left alliance of trying to install one party dictatorship in the country.
Indeed, the NC party was shocked by the decision on October 3 of the left parties to forge an electoral alliance to contest the elections with the aim of securing two-third majority and ultimately unify. Deuba immediately initiated the process of forging democratic alliance and he along with other leaders wasted no time in accusing the left alliance of trying to change the existing parliamentary system. Some even went to the extent of equating left alliance with totalitarianism. While leaders are free to opine that Prachanda’s decision to forge alliance with the main opposition without withdrawing support to the government was politically unethical, not many, however, would subscribe to the idea that the attempt by the left parties was directed towards establishing one party dictatorship in the country. Nobody can blame the left alliance if it is a genuine attempt to establish a stable government to ensure economic prosperity but the left leaders should also not forget that complete state control over factor inputs is not possible and even countries ruled by one party have jettisoned this approach, gradually opening the economy and their market to outside world. It may be noted that Chinese President Xi Jinping at the recent Communist Party critical meeting showed no signs of relaxation on the political front but made it very clear that China would relax market access for foreign investment, expand access to its services sector and deepen market-oriented reform of its exchange rate and financial system. In India, economic liberalism followed political pluralism decades later during the period of Rajiv Gandhi\Narasimha Rao. One should also not fail to understand that one party system of governance could gradually evolve into multi-party system over time but doing away with the multi- party system, even if not functioning properly as is the case here, is very difficult in the present day world. Therefore, the allegation that the left alliance and eventually unification would undermine democracy as it would seize state power and establish a communist styled totalitarian regime is not well founded. It is difficult to believe that Oli and Prachanda will dare swim against the current even in the event of getting a very comfortable majority in the parliament. Moreover, there is no reason not to believe the observations of top leaders of the left alliance that they will move forward peacefully and competitively abiding by the constitution to move the nation towards economic prosperity. The need for NC, therefore, is to come up with workable schemes and designs to counter the threat from the left alliance, which could boost the morale of confused democratic voters. Deuba and his finance minister Karki may also wish to spare some time for the attention- seeking economy of Nepal.
Fundamentals do not show any positive sign in the economy. Trade imbalance is accelerating and has reached Rs.159.83 billion in the first two months of the current fiscal year, registering an increase of 12 percent over the situation in the corresponding period of last fiscal year. Balance of payment is negative by Rs.5.87 billion and remittance is not growing satisfactorily. Despite reported encouraging production of paddy this year, 5.4 million tons as against last year’s 5.2 million tons, it will be difficult to achieve the wished 7.2 percent growth this year. Capital expenditure has remained unsatisfactory as in the past and the progress on the revenue front, which has been encouraging all these years, has also not been satisfactory this time. Inflation is at3.7 percent on point- to- point basis, increasing from 2.3 percent level in the first month of the fiscal year. Election-related expenditures of unproductive nature may exert pressure but chances that it will gallop are minimal because it has come down to this level from 7.9 percent that prevailed in the second month of last fiscal year and is not likely to reach double digit level, which existed in Nepal for many years in the past. Hope everything happens as expected in this land of Lord Pashupatinath.