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Election dates, not elections

Thursday, February 16th, 2017
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The three newly-appointed Election Commissioners at their swearing-in ceremony at Shital Niwas on Thursday. With their entry, the Election Commission has finally got a full shape as the country readies for possible polls. Photo: RSS

The three newly-appointed Election Commissioners at their swearing-in ceremony at Shital Niwas on Thursday. With their entry, the Election Commission has finally got a full shape as the country readies for possible polls. Photo: RSS

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is under mounting pressure to announce a date for local elections, but so far he has only promised a date on which he will announce the date: 19 Feburary.

Sunday is the Election Commission’s deadline for polls to be held in two phases on 15 May and 4 June. But voting will only be possible if constitutional amendments are first passed.

Many suspect Dahal is hoping to stay on as PM if he can keep putting off elections. NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba is getting suspicious that Dahal wants to cling on to office despite their agreement to swap the post.

Dahal’s spokesperson Pampha Bhusal told Nepali Times: “It will be difficult to hold elections without first deciding on local bodies and the amendment.”

The Local Body Restructuring Commission’s proposal to create 719 councils has been rejected by Tarai-centric parties. And the second amendment to the constitution is stuck in Parliament due to opposition from the UML. Madhesi parties also want the amendment to be passed before elections dates are announced.

Election Commissioner Ayodhi Prasad Yadav has submitted a three-month schedule for local polls, and Dahal may no longer be able to avoid it.

But if Dahal fixes election dates on Sunday, the Madhesi parties that have lent their support to the NC-Maoist government will pull out. This will not topple the government, but will make it difficult to conduct polls. Rajendra Shrestha of the Federal Alliance warns: “We will go for a fresh stir if local polls are announced without amending the constitution.”

So, why would the NC and the UML want local polls, however unlikely? “It is all about power, not about implementing the constitution,” says Manish Suman of the Sadbhavana Party. “They just want election dates, not real elections.”

Dahal needs to show he wants elections, otherwise the NC and UML could gang up against him. But he cannot go ahead with polls as long as the Tarai parties want the amendment first. He is caught between a rock and a hard place.
Om Astha Rai

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