With local polls, the first in 20 years, less than two months away, the Nepali public sphere is abuzz with talk of candidates for mayors or village council chiefs.
Even in the Tarai, where Madhesi parties have threatened to disrupt the polls if the Constitution is not amended first, the election fever is rising with the summer temperature. Rajjiuddin Alam, former Vice President of Rautahat DDC, is confident local elections will be held on 14 May and people will cast their votes.
“If not now, it may not happen soon,” said Alam. “People in the Tarai are as desperate for local elections as in the hills.”
Not everyone, especially among Madhesi leaders, agree. As the former President of the Mahottari DDC, Tej Narayan Yadav agrees people are “desperate” for polls, but not exactly “excited”.
Yadav would say that because he quit the UML to be a Central Committee member of the Federal Socialist Forum (FJF) – the first Madhes-centric party to pull out of the Maoist-NC coalition. On Thursday, other Madhesi parties followed suit.
Yadav says people in the Tarai want elections, but not at the cost of being under-represented in state organs. “We must first amend the Constitution only then elect local councils,” he said.
However, the constitution amendment bill looks unlikely to be endorsed even after the Hindu-royalist RPP joined the government last week. If the MJF-D also joins, the ruling coalition will have more MPs but it still won’t be enough.
The RPP and the MJF-D say they will support the amendment only if federal boundaries are left untouched. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal floated this proposal to Madhesi leaders on Wednesday, and most were positive, but Upendra Yadav of the FSF persuaded them to announce a ‘non-cooperative civil disobedience’ movement.
Sources say some Madhesi leaders were ready to accept Dahal’s proposal if he promised to amend constitutional provisions on mother tongue, citizenship and proportional representation. But Yadav held firm.
Even if Yadav comes around, it will still not be easy for the government to pass the amendment. The UML’s Pradip Gyawali says his party will object to the amendment even if federal boundaries are left untouched.
This week, Prime Minister Dahal announced 744 new municipal and village councils, and allocated Rs 7 billion to set up four metropolitan, 13 sub-metropolitan, 246 municipal and 481 village councils.
But Gyawali thinks the government is still vacillating: “We are still doubtful about polls, but the people want it so much the government can’t call it off.”
Foundations of democracy, Om Astha Rai
The elephant in the room, Om Astha Rai