On the murky pond

Now both the government and the opposition are claiming a success. According to Home Minister Kamal Thapa, the municipal election was ‘successfully’ held in a ‘peaceful, free and fair manner’, and he went on to say that compared with the previous elections, this election has been ‘free of controversy’. On the contrary, the seven-party opposition alliance has concluded that the election has proved a ‘failure’, because the people have rejected it. On their part, the Maoists, calling off their week-long nationwide bandh after four days, claimed that their and other political forces’ active boycott has ‘completely destroyed the civic election’.

The overall voter turnout has come out to be record low, as expected; in the first and second municipal elections, held in 2049 BS and 2054 BS, voter turnout hovered at around 60 per cent.

This time around, according to the data supplied by the Election Commission, it stood at about 20 per cent. But the opposition contests even this claim by saying that less than five per cent of the electorate actually cast vote. Dwelling on this dispute is not important. The central issue is what this controversial exercise has achieved. Certainly, it will not lead to peace. Moreover, it will be stretching one’s imagination to expect democracy of an exercise rejected by the great majority of the people, including the mainstream political parties, which commanded more than 95 per cent seats in the dissolved House of Representatives.

Even more important, it is sure to aggravate the conflict between the government the parties and between the former and the Maoists. In an election in which more than 50 per cent of the seats attracted no candidates, and candidates for many seats were elected unopposed, and even in the remainder the number and quality of participation and the widely alleged intervention of the administration have robbed the whole exercise of domestic and international credibility and legitimacy. If the US, for example, has described the poll called by the King as a ‘hollow attempt to legitimize his power’, Japan has deplored the exercise because it was ‘held without a broad support of the people of Nepal’. Given this reality of the poll even in urban areas, which are supposed to have much less Maoist influence than the countryside does, it is not hard to predict what kind of election this government will hold for the village bodies and the national parliament. Besides, given all the circumstances of this election, it is a matter of mere conjecture how the elected office-bearers will be able to discharge their duties effectively.