Air of uncertainty

With the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections less than 100 days away, the public has not yet been able to feel an election atmosphere starting to build up in the country. Compare the general elections of the past with the forthcoming CA elections, which are supposed to chart the future of the country, and the difference becomes clear. The contrast gets even sharper given that the CA polls are more important on account of their lasting impact than the five-yearly event. This conspicuous absence of an election fever has not gone unnoticed. A number of national political leaders are speaking in terms of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ vis-a-vis the elections, trying to apportion the potential blame in the event of the failure to keep the election date. The Prime Minister has been reiterating his commitment to hold the polls on schedule. This is a positive element in an otherwise uncertain atmosphere. However, the fact remains that the PM had been repeating this pledge over and again before the then scheduled June 20 elections, which had later to be extended to November 22.

The Election Commission (EC) has taken a serious note of this lack of enthusiasm among the political parties. To stress the point it had made before — urge the political parties to get into the election mode by going to the people — the EC held a press conference on Monday. Chief election commissioner Bhoj Raj Pokhrel warned that if the political parties made delay in going to the villages, they would have to suffer a loss. On its part, the EC made clear that it had made almost all preparations and was ready to hold the polls. The EC chief rightly added, “The EC is only the umpire; the players should be ready.” This week, EC officials also met the PM, urging him to start election campaigning. Pokhrel called for the avoidance of the repetition of June (another postponement of the polls). He also said the security environment had improved now over June, except in certain places.

Nobody can dispute the EC chief’s assertion that the elections should be held on time. But, his statements also imply an element of uncertainty about the elections; otherwise, he would not have held a news conference to vent those feelings and perceptions. To some people, EC may be preparing the background in case of the “eventual postponement” of the November polls. First of all, the eight political parties need to get united on major issues, including on the question of republic v monarchy, rising above their narrow interests. The government has still to address the demands of the various groups, armed or unarmed, which otherwise threaten to disturb the CA polls. It is still in the process of talking to some of these groups, while there is uncertainty about holding talks with others. So far, the government has clinched an agreement with only one of the groups. Without making peace with other important factions, it will be extremely difficult, as even leaders of the eight-party alliance admit, to make the polls successful. And success calls for work on a war footing, not at the leisurely pace, combined with a will to resolve the problems.