Municipal poll is the right issue wrongly dealt with. Neither the government nor the opposition is treating it the right way. The right way for the government is to, first, resolve the broader political dispute and hold the polls within the agreed framework. The right way for the opposition is to use the opportunity of capturing the municipal bodies by participating in the elections and make them an instrument of enhancing its movement. Unfortunately both followed the wrong ways — one by trying to bulldoze the opposition and the other by trying to subvert it. The people are at a loss to understand whether the poll is a means to express their wishes or a means to demonstrate the strength of political actors to achieve their ends. The result, successful or unsuccessful, will pave the way for intensification of the conflict instead of alleviating the municipal problems.

Nevertheless, the countdown to the polls has started. But the public count-up to participate in it as voters, candidates and invigilators is nowhere to be seen or felt. The government officials have gone all out to attract the people to vote but the opposition politicians are bent upon keeping them away from the polls. Of course, the official media is full of news and views that full security will be provided to all those who participate in the elections. But, on the other hand, the independent media speaks about the public agitation against the polls and the door-to-door campaign the parties are launching to convince the people not to vote to “secure their real voting rights”.

What is really going to happen? One possibility is that the polling booths will be established under heavy security guards. There will be, to begin with, sparse balloting as many voters will be on the watch if it is really safe to proceed towards the booths. If the morning passes off trouble-free, there will be greater turnout in the afternoon. After all, afternoons are the time when the real action takes place, good or bad. The government would be mutely disappointed in the beginning but would feel elated as the day passes on.

Where there is a real crowd lined up for voting from the morning there must be something fishy. The so-called voters might turn out to be the saboteurs. If it is the young people looking like students and activists there is a greater chance that they will quietly but effectively disrupt the balloting. They can find numerous grounds to create trouble and indulge in arguing, delaying and accusations of denying them the right to vote. Hot words can be exchanged resulting in even scuffles and ultimate sloganeering that the voters were not allowed to vote. Will the security forces intervene in such troubles and sort out the problems? They have obviously a mandate to apprehend those who try not to vote. But how can they act against those who are present at the booths willing to vote but denied to vote on one or the other pretext? If the security personnel arrest and whisk away some of them, there will be more sloganeering and scuffles. That will drive the real voters away. Who knows there could be pandemonium and demonstrations right from within the booths? That would be highly embarrassing for the government as well as the security forces.

Regarding the grounds for trouble you don’t have to go far to seek. For example, I have my voter’s identity card duly accredited with photograph and full personal details. But if I want I can create trouble by raising the issue of mistaken age. When I registered in the voters’ list with the visiting officials of the Election Commission, I got my birth year recorded as per my passport, i.e. 1937 AD. But it appeared in the final voters’ list document as 1937 BS. That means I am supposed to be, according to the Election Commission document, 125 years old whereas my age is little more than half of it. I have just overlooked it as a minor error. But suppose I want to pick a quarrel with the polling officials on this pretext, there is room to do so. I can demand immediate correction of my age, which they cannot do as per the rules then and there.

I can, on my part, insist that until it is done, I am not going to vote and until I am not allowed to vote I am not going to allow anybody in the line to come forward. In that case, there will be no other way left for the officials and security personnel to force me out without voting. I can, then, shout at the top of my voice that I was denied my democratic right to vote.

Come February 8 and we will witness all these bizarre and unprecedented scenes — voters willing to vote being unable to vote, voters not willing to vote lining up in the booths. Come February 9, all votes would be counted and results would be out with representatives tick-marked and declared elected. The government will announce it successful and the opposition will declare it unsuccessful. The debate will enter a new political phase, notwithstanding the municipal polls and their results.

Shrestha is co-coordinator, Volunteers Mediators Group for Peace