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All politics is local

Sunday, May 14th, 2017
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All pics: Gopen Rai and Bikram Rai

All pics: Gopen Rai and Bikram Rai

Nearly 5 million voters are casting their ballots on Sunday across three new federal provinces in the first phase of local elections under Nepal’s new constitution. The elections for new Ward, Village and Municipal councils  are the first in 19 years.

The next phase of elections is on 14 June in four provinces that border India with nearly 10 million people eligible to vote. There are a total of 481 Village Councils, 246 Municipalities and 17 Metropolitan cities in the two phased elections.

local elections

The elections are widely expected to give local development a big boost, since it was the absence of elected officials and lack of accountability that led to a deterioration of living conditions in villages and towns across Nepal.

This is not just the first local elections in two decades, but also the first under the new constitution that has turned the former VDC and DDCs from mere administrative units into self-government units with powers of law-making, taxation and licensing.

The counting of ballots of the first phase will start on Tuesday  and the results announced by the weekend, according to the Election Commission. This has raised worries that the results will affect the outcome of the second phase.

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“There was no way to prevent that if the voting is in two phases, the law states that counting has to begin as soon as the voting ends,” explained Election Commissioner Ila Sharma.

The EC was also given very little time to prepare for the elections as politicail parties bickered over amendments to the constitution till the last moment, throwing the elections themselves into doubt; Nepal needs to hold two other elections after this for seven Federal Assemblies and national Parliament – and they need to be done by 18 January 2018.

Mangal Bazar

This local election is a quadrangular fight between mainly the UML, NC, Maoists-Centre and the RPP. The UML had swept the last local elections controlling nearly 60% of all VDCs, 45 out of 58 Municipalities and 36 out of 75 DDCs. Three new alternative parties are also contesting: Sajha Party, Bibeksheel Nepali and New Force Party. The Madhesi parties are expected to field candidates mainly in the second phase.

The unusual coalition of Nepali Congress and Maoists at the national level between two parties that were enemies during the violent conflict 1996-2006, has translated into an alliance between the two parties at the local level.

The most remarkable of these is the NC withdrawing the candidacy of its certain winner of Bharatpur Metorpolitan City, Dinesh Koirala, to allow Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s daughter Renu a chance to win the post. NC activists in Chitwan protested against the move, with many vowing to still vote for Koirala because his symbol is still in the ballot papers.

nakabahil tole lalitpur6

NC move has sparked mutinies within the party in other districts, and is seen to be the main reason why the two parties did not forge electoral alliances in Kathmandu and Patan.

However, there have been other alliances between RPP and UML in many constituencies (including Kathmandu and Lalitpur) and the two have a common platform that emphasizes nationalism and opposition to India’s blockade in 2015.

In most constituencies it is a straight duel between the NC and UML since the Maoists have been weakened by their multiple splits. The possibility of alternative parties controlling the swing votes is therefore strong. Analysts say that between the NC and UML, the party that will win at the local level will be the ones whose votes are least taken away by the new alternative parties.

Baburam Bhattarai’s New Force Party hasn’t yet grown into a national party, but is expected to win in Palungtar of Gorkha where the former minister has a loyal following. There are, however, districts like Lamjung where there is an alliance between the UML and Maoists – proving that there are no permanent enemies or friends in politics, and also that all politics is local.

 

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