As part of its commitment to hold municipal elections, the government has issued an ordinance to amend Clause 12 (2) of the Local Bodies (Election Procedure) Act 1991. The importance of elections — be it local, municipal or general — cannot be overemphasised in a democracy, which, unfortunately, stands derailed in the country. And the present collision between the palace and political parties hovers round this issue. Equally important for the polls is the level of participation of the people, and in the present context, of the mainstream political parties, which accounted for 95 per cent of the total seats in the dissolved House of Representatives.
But, thanks to the deteriorating law and order situation as a result of the ongoing Maoist insurgency, even municipal elections are difficult to conduct in one phase, thus also reflecting the overall state of security in the rural areas. The amendment, after taking into account this and other logistical bottlenecks, has now authorised the Election Commission to conduct local polls in several phases as opposed to the earlier legal provision permitting no more than three phases. Moreover, the amendment also gives discretionary powers to election officers to allow people to cast vote even without identity cards. This step appears to have been taken to attract more voters, but at the same time, it could lead to electoral irregularities of varying nature.
The King, in his New Year’s message this year, had promised municipal elections by the end of this year. The political parties, specifically the seven-party “anti-regression” alliance, have declared that they will not take part, demanding the restoration of democracy first. The idea of ignoring the parties even in local elections will rob the polls of much of their legitimacy as it goes against the spirit of democracy. For the polls to be credible and legitimate, the environment has to be conducive. But the present atmosphere is characterised by deep distrust between the government and the parties. Without addressing the question of how the country should be ruled pending the general elections, there is very little possibility of reconciliation between the two sides. So the government needs to take initiative in that direction, because without the cooperation of the political parties, the whole exercise would turn out to be a farce.