Municipal poll: Mockery of democratic exercise

The much awaited and the most controversial municipal electoral process got started with the filing of the nomination by the candidates on January 26, which resulted in a fiasco at the very first stage. The government turned a deaf ear to widespread appeals not to hold the elections. The civil society urged the government not to conduct elections at this critical juncture where the insurgency has erupted again after the Maoists’ withdrawal of the unilateral ceasefire on January 2, the major political parties decided to boycott the polls (as they said that the poll is being conducted just to legitimise autocracy) and other fringe parties too have abstained from the polls for want of peaceful atmosphere due to repeated threats from the insurgents of taking physical actions against those who participate in the elections. It was hoped that good sense would prevail and the election would be postponed at the last moment in view of the complex political scenario.

The whole election process appears to have crumbled as it failed to meet any criterion for fair election for lack of a sufficient number of candidates. After the end of the withdrawals, out of 4,116 posts of representatives to be elected in 58 municipalities in 43 districts, hardly 3,654 filed their nominations, leaving 2,104 posts without any nominations and more than 1,000 posts, including 22 mayors and 20 deputy-mayors, elected unopposed. There is no electoral contest, as electoral competition means at least two contestants are required for one post. Interestingly, more than 600 candidates have withdrawn their nominations; about 50 in Kathmandu alone. It was alleged that there had been proxy filing of nomination papers. It is reported that a number of candidates were not allowed to withdraw and some elected representatives have submitted their resignations even without taking their oaths. As reported, candidates have been lodged in groups for security reasons and every candidate will be provided two security men while campaigning. However, the election campaign is yet to start even in the Kathmandu Valley. The army has informed the media through a press conference that it is committed to executing its duty as per the mandate from the government to provide security during the upcoming municipal elections. Hence the active role of the army is confirmed in the elections.

The poll will take place hardly for about 1,000 posts on February 8, but it has already produced some important political results with far-reaching ramifications.

First, it proves that political parties have significant command at the mass level, which discouraged the candidates from filing their nominations.

Secondly, the Maoists, who never claimed any control over urban areas, have proved to have substantial base in district headquarters and municipalities too. Thirdly, the fringe political parties have no political base, as 23 out of 73 political parties registered with the Election Commission (EC) for municipal election and already in the fray could not field enough candidates to make the election a contest in true sense of the term. Fourthly, it suggests that the advisors of the king have given wrong estimates about the widespread apathy among the electorate to participation in the election.

Fifthly, a constitutional body like the EC has been stripped of its autonomy as it has been reduced to a mere department of the government. Lastly, the election is being conducted on the basis of party-less system, as only one electoral symbol reserved for a recognised political party is being used, that too in a very few municipalities.

Interesting to note is the EC announcement that it is contemplating another poll programme after the current electoral process ends for the posts for which no nomination papers were filed. If no candidates file their nominations in the next round of filing nomination as per another programme, then, how many times will the EC be coming out with election programmes? Will it keep the programme open-dated for filing nominations? Again calling fresh nominations by the EC will definitely put the EC in a ridiculous situation. It would be better to remember that as per the Local Bodies (electoral process) Act, 1991 (2048), (if not amended recently through any ordinance), the EC is authorised to publish another electoral programme only when a candidate of a recognised political party dies before the polling takes place. It is, therefore, suggested that the EC must take its decisions carefully realising its constitutional responsibilities. It has to wait for the request of the government to hold elections for the vacant seats and then it has to apply its wisdom by studying the political situation facing the country before taking any decision. Otherwise, problems will remain as they are today. It should not follow blindly the instructions of the government. It draws its strength from the Constitution itself and, of course, not from Article 127.

Prof. Mishra is ex-election commissioner