Vote, for whom?

Chief Election Commissioner Keshav Rajbhandari has said the date for the municipal elections is to be announced ‘soon’. Addressing a training programme for district returning officers in Lalitpur on Sunday, Rajbhandari also said the polls would be held with or without the political parties. According to him, the EC has nearly completed the necessary work on the electoral rolls, fixing of polling stations, and assembling of ballot boxes and other election materials. Recently, the government issued an amendment ordinance to enable the EC to conduct the polls in more than three phases.

Five months have already elapsed since the King’s last pledge to hold polls for the 58 municipalities (and it is three years since his October 4 (2002) promise to hold the local and national elections ‘as soon as possible’). The statement that preparations are now almost complete therefore implies that the EC had not been up to date till recently, though both national and local elections had been overdue. This, sadly, reflects the EC’s lack of a sense of its constitutional duty. No less objectionable is Rajbhandari’s statement that the EC will go ahead even if the political parties refuse to take part, despite the King’s oft-repeated ‘commitments to multiparty democracy and constitutional monarchy’.

Without the seven agitating political parties, which accounted for 95 per cent of the seats in the dissolved House and a similar proportion in the now expired elected local bodies, the polls would be widely deemed to be a mockery of the democratic practice, as the 1990 Constitution does not envisage elections and governance without them. The dozens of other parties registered with the EC only serve to increase the total number, as they lack a popular base. The government’s two-front war, with the political parties as well as with the Maoists, is making things even more difficult. Treating the parties in an inimical way does not go to establish one’s bone fides about democracy, and responding to the rebels’ unilateral ceasefire negatively may destroy the ceasefire prematurely. Under these circumstances, violence and conflict are bound to intensify. Then it will be unrealistic to expect any national, VDC and DDC elections to take place, even if one were to give the government the benefit of the doubt.