In what appears to be good news for Nepal’s nascent federal democratic system, the ruling alliance has mostly agreed to hold local elections ‘on time’, although it is unclear whether they will accept the proposal. of the Electoral Commission. The electoral management body has proposed that local elections be held in April-May (on April 27 if they are to be held in a single phase, and on April 27 and May 5 if they are to be held in two phases). While the opposition CPN-UML wants the local elections to be held on the dates proposed by the commission, the CPN-Maoist Center and the CPN-Unified Socialist have reportedly lobbied to delay the elections. But the fact that we are relieved to learn that the political parties are deciding to organize the elections “on time” speaks volumes about the deep distrust we have of these parties.
The fact that parties deliberate on when to hold elections is testament to the unnecessary power they cede over the electoral process. The Electoral Commission should be allowed to decide independently when it wants the elections to take place in accordance with the constitutional mandate. Although political parties are important players in the electoral process, the issue of holding periodic elections on time should be the prerogative of the commission, whose primary function is to conduct free and fair elections. Moreover, as we fight against the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, nothing says the scenario in April-May. It is all too clear that the political parties do not care about the security of the people. The electoral commission should therefore offer clearly thought-out alternatives and guidelines in the event that physical voting cannot take place.
Parties are not known to see elections as a way to strengthen democracy as much as they are known to use them to gain power. If they end up building consensus on a particular date without too much fiasco, it should be understood that they have all done their math and come to a similar conclusion from their own different points of view. So deep is our distrust of political parties; the suspicion comes of course from the recalcitrant way in which the parties behave when it comes to working collectively to strengthen the democratic process. The question then is: what happens if the parties cannot reach a consensus on when to hold the elections? There is no doubt that the decision of the parties on the elections depends on their calculations rather than on a real commitment to organize periodic elections on time.
In any case, the same parties that dominate national politics will be the main contenders in local elections since there are no formidable provincial political parties to date. Notwithstanding their profiles at the national level, political parties will likely have to contest elections on local issues. If the local levels have experienced some hiccups in terms of the institutionalization of democracy, they have also raised a lot of hope, particularly in terms of development, among the populations. From forming localized policies on development issues to finding local solutions to manage the Covid-19 crisis, some local governments have shown much promise. But then there are concerns – often real – that corruption has spread its tentacles to the most remote places across local levels. So, the local elections this time will be, in addition to being a “dance of democracy”, a plebiscite to determine if the political structure we have adopted really works for us.