As per Nepal’s Local Election Act 2017, voting for all 753 local governments must be held by 19 March. But the governing coalition that is supposed to announce poll dates has been dilly-dallying because two of its members want it postponed.
Although in a meeting of the High-level Political Mechanism on Tuesday all parties are said to have agreed to hold the local polls “on time as per the Constitution”, the Maoist Centre (MC) and the Unified Socialists (US) are still proposing a delay, even suggesting that federal elections be held first.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the MC is said to have come out most strongly in Tuesday’s meeting to postpone local elections till November, even if it took an ordinance to amend the law to do so.
The MC and US both want more time to prepare for the polls because they are fragments of larger parties. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s Nepali Congress and Janata Samajbadi Party on the other hand want the election as scheduled on 27 April.
At an all-party meeting at the Election Commission on 14 January, the MC and US came up with a legal argument that there were different provisions in the Constitution and the Act regarding the tenure of local representatives. They even used the pandemic, high cost of separate polls, and ‘election fatigue’ as pretexts to postpone the polls.
“All of us are for local elections to be held immediately and we said as much, except for the Maoists and the United Socialists,” revealed Jhanak Pyakurel of the rightwing Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP). “Periodic elections are a prerequisite in a democracy, they should be held as scheduled in April.”
Indeed, 13 leaders out of 15 parties at the meeting said elections should be held on time. MC and US were the only ones demanding postponement.
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And it is clear why: Dahal wants elections to all three levels held simultaneously and that provincial and federal elections be held before local elections because he fears his party will be trounced in local polls.
Dahal is aware that his party has stagnated and suffered defections since the last elections in 2017, and has seen an erosion of its mass base. One MC leader confided that the party was finding it difficult even to find candidates in some municipalities and wards, let alone win them.
Dahal is also worried that the MC’s defeat in local elections will undermine his chances in provincial and federal assembly polls. The Nepali Congress has said it is fighting elections on its own and will not join an electoral alliance with the Maoists.
Dahal is now using the argument that federal elections are needed first to break the deadlock in Parliament, which has not met for six months because of obstructions by the UML.
Which is why Dahal is even thinking of once more forging an alliance with arch-enemy K P Oli’s UML. If that happens, Nepali politics will have come a full circle to pre-2017 days.
“We have two advantages in joining with the UML, we win more seats than aligning with other parties and it will also stop the defection of Maoist cadres to the UML,” says a close Dahal confidante. “If an electoral pact with either UML or NC is ensured, we will agree to local elections in April.”
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