A question of timing

Among the several decisions made by the SPA at its coordination committee meeting on Monday, its decision to freeze the MPs’ Constituency Development Fund until the CA election has been widely hailed, just as the government’s decision, as announced in the finance minister’s Budget Speech for the current year, to provide every Member of Parliament with one million rupees to be spent on development work in his or her constituency had been criticised. The total amount of the money to be released under this scheme would come to Rs.330 million, as there are 330 MPs. But another SPA decision — postponement of the student union elections at Tribhuvan University and its (affiliated) colleges until the CA polls — has received mixed reactions. For instance, the CPN-UML-affiliated All Nepal National Free Students Union (ANNFSU) has slammed the decision as ‘unnecessary political interference’. For the CPN-Maoist-affiliated student organisation, however, the decision comes across as a sensible one.

Are the decisions right? The answers should be found in relative terms. Freezing of the funds for local development and postponement of the campus elections may not strike one as sound decisions, as the first would appear to conflict with the goal of development at the grassroots and the second would sound anti-democratic. But the soundness of the two moves are just a question of timing. Many people thought that the funds to be channelled down to the constituency level in the name of the MPs’ development fund might be misused to influence the electorate just weeks ahead of the CA election. This doubt has arisen from the best of motives. The CA election has to be free and fair to be credible. It would not have been right to persist in the earlier decision inspite of the public doubt that these funds could be used for the undesirable purpose of swaying voters. However, it must be admitted that the government or the MPs could not explain to the public clearly that the funds were to be utilised through the SPA mechanism, not at the whim of any MP.

There is no disputing the importance of holding timely elections at the national level, at the local level or at the campus level. But the question at issue is whether it is wise to hold the campus elections at this juncture when the nomination dates for the CA election are close at hand. Some, including political parties and their student wings, may have thought of the campus polls this time around in terms of their impact on the individual political parties’ prospects in the CA election. But they should come out of this petty-political calculation of one-upmanship at a time when they should be concentrating on the all-important task of making a success of the CA election, all the more so because powerful forces are at work to prevent it through all means, including bandhs, strikes and violence. Deferring the campus election by a couple of months seems to be a better decision than diverting the students’ huge strength and attention from the country’s most important mission and running the risk of dividing the students or creating bad blood among them.