Municipal poll: Lessons for all political stakeholders

The municipal election is over. The government has expressed its satisfaction over the “success” of the election. In its opinion, the holding of municipal poll has paved the path for the parliamentary elections next year. The major political parties expressed satisfaction over the success of poll boycott. In their opinion, the poll had thin participation and the number of participants had been inflated by unethical means. The Maoists’ conviction in applying intimidation must have been reinforced because the number of vacant seats and the resignation of those already elected unopposed was the direct result of the fear of physical liquidation. All three conclusions have been based on their unwillingness to face the truth and stick to their fancy.

The reality is that the election proved to be a farce and in spite of governmental manoeuvring voters showed no enthusiasm to join the polls. The number of bogus votes and votes of those whose names were not listed have shown that the claim by the Election Commission (EC) that the poll was “fair and free” was a shameful lie. The charges by certain parties, which had participated in the election against Rastriya Prajatantra Party of the home minister, of misconduct in themselves reveal the falsehood of the claim by the EC.

It must be noted that the governments friendly to Nepal have unanimously voiced concern over the conduct of the election. The overwhelming number of security personnel present at the polling booths was more for intimidation than for guarding against security risks.

Moreover, the EC’s claim of the participation of 21 per cent of the voters has to be re-examined and the results of 22 municipalities where no polls had been conducted, as all the candidates were elected unopposed, have to be scrutinised honestly and objectively. The claim by the EC and the government is distorted and subjective. In order to rectify the errors committed by the government and inject a little bit of credibility, the government must admit the failure of its propaganda machinery and think seriously how to mend fences with the parties, including the Maoists.

The government’s claim of having broken the backbone of the Maoists has not assured the people of any improvement in the law and order situation and the government’s effort to ignore the seven-party alliance has only isolated it from the people.

The alliance should also cast away its illusion that the boycott was totally voluntary. No doubt the parties have a large following and their appeal did get response from the people. However, the Maoist threats should not be ignored. The lack of voters’ enthusiasm had several reasons, including the appeal by the parties, and thus in a negative way the parties proved the polls to be a farce. It could have been more effective if the parties could have proved the farce in a positive wa y. They could have demanded the creation of an atmosphere for a free and fair election. By defeating the government-sponsored parties, they could have shown where the approval of the people lay.

The parties must be sensitive to the people’s will. For the last eight years the electoral process has not been used for obvious reasons. The lack of people’s representatives has hampered development activities. The bureaucrats who are not responsible to the people have used the local budget.

The parties have failed to give convincing reasons as to how the elections could have strengthened autocracy. There was no need to give up their opposition to the government in order to participate in the election and prove their hold on the masses. They could have exposed the government’s weakness in a much convincing way by winning the election and then resigning en masse. The parties have to revise their tactics so that their presence among the people is felt and seen.

The Maoists had assured that they would not resort to violence. It’s a pity that they could not keep their word. They must have concluded that their hold on the people is such that the mass complied with their week-long bandh. If the Maoists really adhere to their understanding reached with the seven-party alliance, then they must repudiate the tactics of intimidation. An intimidated people cannot transform the society, which the Maoists claim as their objective. A social transformation is needled in Nepal for a democratic and prosperous future. The Maoists must realise that intimidation was the main tool in the hands of the feudal elements, and the same tool in others’ hands cannot have any other effect.

There has been a wide acknowledgement of Maoist supremo Prachand’s recent interview as positive and constructive attitude. The Maoists must reinforce Prachanda’s declaration as their well-calculated conviction and act accordingly to assure the people that the acts of violence were only a means to resist the status quo but not an end in itself. They must declare their unflinching support for the understanding reached with the seven-party alliance.

Upadhyay is a former foreign minister