93 days to go : Political preparations inadequate

The elections for the Constituent Assembly (CA) should be held on the day fixed by the eight-party coalition government, which is now just over 90 days away. A lot of preparation has to be made to conduct the election in a free and fair manner. While the Election Commission (EC) has taken its duty seriously and has done a lot of work on technical and legal aspects of polls, the political aspect is supposed to be handled by the EPA government. Political settlement is necessary to create the right environment for the CA polls.

The warning of the chief election commissioner ought to be taken earnestly by the political parties, particularly the eight political parties which share the common responsibility of seeing the country through these tough times. Besides the need for political settlement, the need to educate the masses about the role of a CA is very important. The level of awareness regarding CA election and its procedure is either low or non-existent.

Nepalis have had the experience of several elections, local as well as parliamentary, but CA polls are not only new to the masses but also to the political parties. The masses have heard, thanks to the electronic media, about a prospective election for the CA but are totally ignorant about the electoral procedure as well as the functioning of the CA. Most people assume that the election is, like the ones held in the past, to elect party candidates who would look after their needs like drinking water, electricity, roads, dams, schools etc in the respective constituencies.

Common people are unaware of the meaning of restructuring of the state, delineation of new administrative units and their bases, the relation between the new units and the central government and other allied issues. Though the political parties are busy educating their cadres on such issues, they have been rather slow and lethargic on educating the larger mass. There has been much talk about eight-party alliance’s combined decision to go to the villages, but hardly any action has been witnessed on the ground. Hence the masses still consider CA election a periodic exercise similar to the past elections.

Political parties have been lagging behind the civil society in educating the common people about the election, its objective and procedures. Several civil society organisations have been organising public debates, workshops and meeting to disseminate information on poll preparations and other related issues. However, lack of resources has hampered their attempt to reach a wider section of population. The government has not shown any interest in providing assistance to civil society organisations engaged in spreading awareness among common people about the importance of CA, social transformation based on justice and equality of all Nepalis.

The issue of mixed electoral system is further confusing the people. They are familiar with the procedure of casting their votes for a party or a person of their choice, but are quite ignorant about the voting requirements of proportional representation system. The importance of PR system for election of a truly inclusive CA cannot be overemphasised. Hence it is bewildering that the government is not serious about responding to the demand of Madhesi and Janajati leaders who are clamouring for total proportional representation.

Similarly, on the question of creation of new administrative units, there seems to be big differences among EPA constituents. The Madhesi and Janajati leaders have made it very clear that the new units ought to be based on language and ethnicity. Those who find fault with the aspiration of the Madhesi and Janajatis approach have no sound argument in their favour. This is one factor fuelling further dissent across the country.

Government’s sluggish pace in trying to reach agreements with Madhesis and Janajatis does not augur well for the settlement of existing differences among the political parties. The

government’s negotiating team has been involved in futile exercises so far and recently the government reorganised the team, presumably to strengthen it for successful conclusion to the negotiations. Until now, negotiations have been held on one to one basis with different dissenting groups. This has led to further fragmentation and succeeded only in capturing cheap media attention.

Negotiations must be held in the presence of the largest number of dissenting groups along with the political parties in the interim parliament. A political conference that brings together leaders of all parties and groups as well as leaders of the ethnic communities and civil society would deliberate on important issues like restructuring of the state, rights and duties of citizens, inclusiveness, end of discrimination and principles of a certain family, caste or tribe etc is the need of the hour. Only such a widely participated political conference with an open-ended agenda would bring about a lasting political settlement.

Upadhyay is ex-foreign minister