Nepal’s ruling political parties are facing growing calls from civil society, constitutional experts and the public to announce dates for local elections which need to be held by April this year.
However some members of the governing coalition, fearing lack of preparation and loss at the polls, are using various pretexts to try to postpone elections. A meeting of top leaders of the coalition partners on Tuesday is trying to forge a common position.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s Nepali Congress wants local polls to be held on schedule, and elections to the federal parliament later this year or early 2023. While the opposition UML agrees with this view, coalition partners Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialists want the local elections postponed till November and held together with voting for the other two tiers.
They cite the Omicron surge, the huge costs of holding separate elections at a time when the economy is in trouble, as well as saving the public from too many elections this year.
The Election Commission has warned the government that it needs to decide on the date by the end of this week if polls are to be held on 27 April.
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But pressure on the government to hold elections as mandated by the Constitution is growing. On Monday, umbrella organisations representing Nepal’s local elected bodies joined the call to conduct local elections.
The National Association of Rural Municipalities in Nepal, Municipal Association of Nepal and Federation of District Coordinating Committees issued a joint press release to pressure the governing parties and the Election Commission to begin the process for local polls by May.
‘In a system where provincial and federal governments do not govern local political institutions, Nepal’s Constitution has not envisioned even a single day without locally elected leaders,’ the statement co-signed by the chairs of the three organisations reads. ‘We hope that the elections are held in a timely manner, and that local bodies do not go without elected representatives even for a day.’
The Election Commission has recommended that elections be held on 27 April across the country in a single phase, or on 27 April and 5 May in two phases.
The five-year terms of Nepal’s locally elected representatives, which began on 20 May 2017, will officially end on 19 May 2022. Nepal’s Constitution requires that local elections be held within six months of the end of the current officials’ terms.
Before that, Nepal is set to elect 20 members to the National Assembly on 26 January to replace those retiring from the Upper House following the end of their four-year terms.
Minister for Health and Population Birodh Khatiwada declared on Monday that dates for local elections will be decided within this week.
Speaking at a press conference in Biratnagar on Monday, Khatiwada said: “The five-party alliance is committed to holding the local elections.”
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If the elections take place on the recommended dates, Nepal will go into the election cycle at a time when the third phase of Covid-19 infections is spreading across the country.
On Monday, Nepal reported 5,747 positive cases out of 14,014 RT-PCR tests and 987 positive cases out of 3,451 antigen tests. Out of the total 6,734 positive cases, 3,939 are from the Kathmandu Valley, which has a significant concentration of registered voters in the country.
Meanwhile, even as Nepal’s rightwing political parties capitalise on the growing debate about scrapping federalism and secularism from the Constitition, India’s state-level elections have reignited geopolitical tensions between the two countries once again.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi sparked outrage in Nepal after remarks during an election rally in India’s Uttarakhand state, during which he spoke about plans to extend a road to the disputed region of Lipulekh. Some of India’s state-influenced tv channels have since been labelling Nepal as ‘pro-China’.
While India-bashing is a popular past-time during elections in Nepal when parties join the nationalism bandwagon, it seems that Nepal-bashing has now also become a sport in Indian elections.
Five Indian states will be holding elections in January-February, in votes that will determine the fate of Modi’s BJP government ahead of general elections in 2024. How the BJP fares in these elections will broadly influence the federalism and secularism debate in Nepal.
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