Exercise In Contradiction: Opposition to Nepal’s Elections

With less than six weeks remaining for Nepal’s municipal elections, there is an intense national focus on preparations for a democratic exercise that eluded Nepalese voters for the past four years. The international community is also taking considerable interest in the impending democratic exercise. However, the seven-party alliance, which in November reached a 12-point understanding with the Maoists, has raised the banner of rebellion against the scheduled polls. Its constituents vow to actively boycott the popular event, which is a veiled form of intimidation, if not worse.

Election of local government should have taken place by the spring of 2002, but the then Nepali Congress government expressed inability to conduct the required polls on grounds of law and security problem caused by the Maoists. The government even rejected pleas that the term of the nearly 4000 village development committees and 58 municipalities should be extended by a year in accordance with the existing constitutional provision. That Sher Bahadur Deuba, who thought conditions were not congenial for holding local elections, sought the dissolution of the House of Representatives and go for early parliamentary polls is another matter.

Instead, the government went on filling the vacant posts of popularly elected local representatives through handpicked people. As if on cue, subsequent governments followed suit. This left the local bodies without duly elected representatives. It made it easier for the Maoists to threaten the nominated officials. The Nepali Congress government did not extend the term of the local bodies chiefly because representatives of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) dominated them.

The last local elections were conducted in 1997 when UML leader Bam Dev Gautam was Home Minister. The Nepali Congress and several other smaller parties vehemently condemned the polls as having been rigged. Predictably, the UML rejected the charges. The sound and fury was not new for the general public. For UML, too, had condemned the previous local poll results in 1992 as having been rigged by the Nepali Congress cabinet.

In fact, all elections in multiparty Nepal have borne charges of being burdened with ballot stuffing, dubious financial sources and misuse of power by the government of the day. This was true when the first general elections were held in 1959. The story got repeated every time there has been an election after the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990.

And those in the seat of government happened to win most seats, be it a House of Representatives or be they local bodies. This has made political parties resort to any means to be in power when conducting elections. The on-going plans of the seven-party alliance, in apparent understanding with the Maoists, to disrupt elections are to be seen against such a background.

That the agitating parties should oppose the holding of elections betrays their ulterior motive. Should anything untoward happen in the course of the elections, they will be responsible for the consequences. For, by any yardstick, words and action for free and fair polls are welcomed everywhere. But unfortunately, not in the seven-party camp.