Best yardstick

Election or no election? This question is vexing the political parties and the government right now. Few disagree that the parliamentary elections are the only adequate and undisputed means of proving the people’s mandate to rule, the single best yardstick of a functioning democracy, and in Nepal’s case, bringing the derailed democratic process back on track. But the main obstacle to it lies in the sharp differences among the parliamentary parties as to whether the polls could be held in the present security environment. Making things worse no less are sharp differences among the central leadership within individual political parties. For example, the two main parties in the four-party Deuba government, namely the CPN-UML and the NC-D, are facing internal dissensions over the issue. The CPN-UML does not favour polls, but Prime Minister Deuba seems determined to hold them. The four “anti-regression” parties, including the Congress, are firmly against the polls, favouring instead the restoration of the Lower House, and they might even boycott the polls.

The constitutional forces have prolonged the constitutional impasse through their intransigent stances. If the elections cannot be held, if the parliament cannot be restored, and if peace talks with the Maoists cannot be conducted, then what option might be left for the country? And this seems to revive the worst fears. As government spokesman and minister, Dr Mohammad Mohsin, had indicated not long ago, the vacuum might be filled by authoritarian forces. No political force or party, in power or in the streets, can now claim to enjoy the popular mandate pending fresh general elections. Even the restoration of parliament is no guarantee of a political resolution of the Maoist problem, as the past has shown. The indefinite postponement of the elections will only mean the continuance of Article 127, which might look all right in letter but runs counter to the spirit of the Constitution.

This brings up the question whether we should make a sincere effort to hold the elections, of course, in several phases and to be concluded within a reasonable time. The lack of progress with the Maoists can hardly justify holding the entire democratic process hostage. This would raise legitimate questions about the ability to govern of those who have held the helm of the afffairs of the State for the past three years, particularly since October 4, 2002, as well as about their right to rule. To ensure free and fair polls overall, even international supervision might be considered, but there seems to be no better alternative to seeking a fresh popular mandate. Those who claim to be the constitutional forces will be to blame if they let undemocratic forces to fill the vacuum.