LOCAL ELECTIONS High Preparation, Low Interest

Whether the government holds the local election or postpones it for a certain period of time, Nepal’s political instability is unlikely to see any end. Although the election is seen as a process to sort out problems in democracy, Nepal’s proposed local body election is only likely to intensify the country's political crisis. With the cloud of uncertainty hovering, election fever is yet to grip the people

Issue Name : Vol.10,No 16,April 7,2017 (Chaitra 25,2073)

After failing to convince Madhesh-based parties to take part in the local elections, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal reportedly proposed with Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba for postponing the elections for a month. However, Nepali Congress leader Deuba flatly rejected the proposal.

Holding the election is necessary for NC leader Deuba to take the helm of government from Maoist leader Prachanda as per their political agreement reached last year. Maoists are supposed to hand over power to Nepali Congress after the local elections. According to the agreement, elections for province and center will be held under the NC leadership. Hence, Nepali Congress leaders consider changing the date of elections at this juncture as giving new life to Prime Minister Prachanda.

As United Democratic Madheshi Front leaders have declined to take part in the elections without amendment of the constitution, peaceful elections are unlikely for the local bodies, which have been without elected representatives for 20 years.

For Prime Minister Dahal, it is politically too risky to hold the election without Madheshis and NC leader Deuba thinks postponement of elections will be a political accident for him.

Although CPN-UML is publicly harping on its election slogans, its leaders also want to see the fall of this coalition government rather than holding the elections. CPN-UML considers itself to be in a win-win situation. If the ruling party postpones the elections, CPN-UML will hit the streets, showing they are interested in elections. If the elections held, they are already in their final preparations.

“If the government postpones the elections to please a bunch of political parties, it is unacceptable for us. Elections must be held at any cost,” said K.P. Sharma Oli, leader of CPN-UML.

At a time when three major political parties stand on three different sides, United Democratic Madheshi Front has openly said that it will not take part in the local elections without amendment of the constitution.

UDMF believes that it will be able to trap the three political parties in a political quagmire. If the parties hold the election by force, ignoring Madhesh, it will give space for UDMF to woo the people on its side. The decision taken by three parties two years ago to promulgate the new constitution by their sheer strength has already psychologically divided the nation. If they hold the local elections ignoring UDMF, it will push Nepal into a new round of crisis. If the government holds the election without the participation of Madhesh based parties, the current political tension will turn anarchic.

“We will not accept any election held prior to constitution amendment,” said Mahantha Thakur, chairperson of Tarai Madhesh Democratic Party. “If the government tries to hold the elections with the backing of arms and ammunition, the people from Madhesh region will protest strongly.”

Along with political differences, the local body restructuring decision has already created problems in many districts. Under the recommendation from the state restructuring committee, the old institutions of VDCs and Municipalities have changed. As there are a lot of tensions and disputes over the boundaries of the local bodies, political tensions are growing. From hill to Madhesh, boundary disputes are everywhere.

According to a study, there are over 200 disputes in various districts on border of municipality and village municipality. As the restructuring was made in Kathmandu with the help of Nepal’s map by geographers, it has created more problems for people to know where they belong to.

With the merging four to five VDCs to make one municipal village, the size and area have grown in such a way that it will take even a week to cover the areas of one Village Council or Municipal Council.

“There is no question to postpone elections now. It will be held on May 14,” said Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba. “UDMF will take part in the elections. Otherwise, we need to hold the elections in two phases.”

Elections Commission Preparation

Although there is a growing uncertainty over holding the local elections, the Election Commission has already arranged the necessary materials for the elections.

The commission has already printed the ballot papers. Voter identity cards have already been prepared on the basis of last year’s voters list although the risk is there that a lot of people will have lost their right to vote.

A board meeting of the EC has included 14,054,482 people registered with the election body as eligible voters. Of the total, the number of male voters stands at 7,069,714 and female voters at 6,984,625. The number of third gender voters is 143.

According to details provided by the EC, the highest number of voters are registered in Morang district. The details show that 563,870 voters are registered in Morang while the least number are registered in Manang. Only 5,095 voters are registered in this mountain district.

The election body has made public the voter rolls without finalizing the polling stations in six districts of Province 2, following obstructions by Madhes-centric parties. Of the eight districts in the province, only Bara and Parsa have finalized the number of polling stations. The remaining districts of Province 2 have not yet decided the polling stations.

"There might be some changes in the case of the six Madhes districts. But we could not delay finalizing the  voter rolls as we have to print the rolls and voter ID cards before sending them out to the  polling stations," said EC Spokesperson Surya Prasad Sharma.

Immediately after finalizing the number of eligible voters, the EC has begun to print the voter rolls. Both the voter rolls and voter IDs will be printed at presses set up within the EC premises. "We are printing the voter rolls on our own. Selected private firms will print the voter ID cards," said Spokesperson Sharma.

With the upcoming local elections just around the corner, a total of 10,000 ballot boxes purchased from China have arrived at Kerung of Nepal-China border.

"Ballot boxes have arrived at the border. They will be transported to Kathmandu immediately after customs clearance," said Election Commission's spokesperson Surya Prasad Sharma.

Although the EC had already purchased some 70,000 ballot boxes during previous elections, it decided to purchase additional 30,000 large-sized ballot boxes keeping in view the maximum number of political parties registered with the EC in some districts for the upcoming elections.

The EC requires 67 types of logistics. The EC is bringing some motorcycles from India. Apart from vehicles, India is also providing curtains to be used in polling booths and other logistics.

The EC is also receiving 11 types of logistics from the northern neighbor, China. China is providing neutral pens, markers, thumbtacks, clips, staplers, staples, scissors, glue sticks, calculators, ink pads, punchers and horologes and stamp pads.

Election Commission has also appointed chief returning officers and returning officers in all the 75 districts to conduct local level elections on May 14.

The commission's meeting decided on appointing 669 officials from judicial service and civil service as the returning officers for conducting the polls. The commission, issuing a press release, informed that the officials from judicial service are appointed as per the recommendation of Judicial Service Commission.

The upcoming election is going to be about twice as costly as that of 17 years ago, even after adjusting for inflation. Government data show that spending for the parliamentary election in 1999 was Rs 2.75 billion while the estimated spending for the upcoming local election is projected at Rs 20 billion. Adjusting Rs 2.75 billion for an average annual inflation rate of 8 percent over 17 years would result in a figure of around Rs 10 billion.

Increment in the use of temporary police, eleventh hour election preparations that make for dearer procurement of essential logistics, and inefficiency in terms of using more manpower and less technology are among some major reasons behind the spike in expenditure of taxpayer rupees to elect popular representatives.

In view of the upcoming May 14 elections, the government has deputed all chief returning officers and returning officers required for the management of the elections in all 744 local units.






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