Widening gap

As in previous years, the King and the leaders of political parties have made their New Year messages to the Nepali people, stressing the high values of democracy and wishing peace and prosperity to all. The King has underlined the need to “make multiparty democracy sustainable, people-oriented and mature.” Expressing the view that the security situation

in the country has become more favourable, the King said there should be “no delay in re-activating the democratic process.” He said he has, therefore, commanded the Election Commission to hold the municipal elections within this year. On the other hand, Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala, in his message, called upon all to fight against

“attempts to hijack democracy under various pretexts.” At a programme on Thursday, Koirala, reiterating the demand for the restoration of the Lower House, made it clear that the elections announced by the King were “unacceptable,” as the announcement “ignored the nation and the people” and “ridiculed the letter and spirit” of the Constitution.

So the signs are far from encouraging for a reconciliation between the palace and the political

parties. Fresh elections are, no doubt, the best way of bringing the derailed democracy back on track. But the announcement, as it appears, has been made without taking the political parties into confidence. The other major political parties, including the CPN-UML, particularly those within the five-party alliance, are unlikely to support the elections under the given circumstances. If the principal parties staged a boycott, the elections would lose much of their legitimacy at home and abroad. Certainly, such a situation would not help bring the two constitutional forces closer.

In a country of villages, with some 4,000 village development committees (VDCs), elections to the 58 municipalities can only be a small step towards, not a substitute for, the local elections. The Royal message implies that the VDC and parliamentary polls are not on the cards during this year. In fact, even previous governments were in a position to hold the polls in the urban areas, as, it is sometimes said, the government’s effective presence has been limited largely to the district headquarters and the urban areas. Therefore, the municipal elections alone cannot truly reflect the security situation in the country. As the parties are under restrictions and some of their important leaders are still under detention in a move said to be directed against the Maoists, the credibility gap between the parties and the palace has widened further. Therefore, the first steps should be aimed at closing this gap. Unilateral attempts to resolve the crisis are unlikely to succeed, as all indications suggest.