Nepal held the first phase of its local election in May 2017, after nearly 19 years. Following the expiry of the five-year term of the elected representatives in 2002, the local bodies have been without elected representatives for almost 14 years. The Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ is all set to resign and hand over power to Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba. The second phase of the local election, scheduled for 14 June, will be conducted by the Deuba government.
However, the Madhesi parties have warned that they would not participate in the local elections and would instead disrupt the process, unless amendments are endorsed in the constitution.
First Phase of Local Elections
There was little hope among the people and the political parties that the first phase of local election would be held on the scheduled date of 14 May. However, the election was conducted in 34 districts of Nepal’s three provinces (namely 3, 4 and 6) without major violence.
The Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) [CPN-UML] and the Nepali Congress won over 100 seats while the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) [CPN-MC] won less than half of them. However, the first phase of election was held on around 40 per cent of seats, mostly in hill districts. The second phase of election will be in favour of the Nepali Congress and Madhesis. Hence, in the final count, the Nepali Congress would emerge as the largest, followed by CPN-UML.
The Prachanda-led government was under extreme pressure to hold the local elections. As per the newly promulgated constitution, the government has to conduct three tier elections – local, provincial and federal – before January 2018. There was excessive pressure from the main opposition, CPN-UML as well. However, the major obstacle was posed by the Madhesi parties who were against holding of the elections before the endorsement of the amendment in the constitution. After the assurance from the government of amending the constitution after the first phase of local election, Madhesi parties called off their protest programs and paved way for the first phase of election.
Is the Second Phase Possible?
The second phase of local election is scheduled for 14 June, which will be held in 41 districts of provinces 1, 2, 5 and 7. It consists of all the Madhes districts of Nepal and the Madhesi parties have warned the government of strong protests and disruption of election, if held without the endorsement of amendment in the constitution. Hence, holding the election without taking the Madhesi parties will be a herculean task.
The amendment to the constitution requires support from two-third of the total seats. The ruling alliance and Madhesi parties are unable to garner enough support for amendment. The CPN-UML – the main opposition – is strongly against it. Similarly, the government does not want to push for voting unless there is enough support for amendment, while the CPN-UML would not allow the process to take places if there is a chance of the amendment getting endorsed because it is possible if some of the Madhesi leaders from his party support the amendment. Hence, the amendment of the constitution is stuck in the numbers game.
The Madhesi parties have very few seats in the parliament. They could not garner a strong hold like in the first Constituent Assembly, as the parties got fragmented. India partly played a role in this process as it wanted to isolate Maoists. The Maoists and Madhesis share some similarities on issues of federalism. Hence, on several occasions, the Madhesis wanted to support the Maoists on the constitutional issues. However, since April 2017, the Madhesi parties are consolidating themselves. There were three major mergers of the Madhesi parties in April 2017.
On 5 April, the Bijay Kumar Gachhadar-led Madhesi People’s Rights Forum-Democratic; Yasoda Lama-led Dalit Janajati Party Nepal; and the Shiva Lal Thapa-led Janamukti Party announced the Nepal Democratic Forum.
Similarly, on 20 April, the major Madhesi parties, namely Tarai Madhes Democratic Party led by senior Madhesi leader Mahanta Thakur; the Rajendra Mahato-led Sadbhawana Party; the Mahendra Ray Yadav-led Tarai Madhes Sadbhawana Party; the Sharat Singh Bhandari-led Rastriya Madhes Samajwadi Party; the Anil Kumar Jha-led Nepal Sadbhawana Party; and the Rajkishor Yadav-led Madheshi Janadhikar Forum-Republican formed the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal.
Moreover, the Upendra Yadav- led Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal and the Baburam Bhattarailed newly formed Naya Shakti Party-Nepal announced a working alliance. The Naya Shakti Party and the Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal contested elections on one symbol and they are preparing for alliance with four to five small parties after the election.
Interestingly, after the merger, none of the Madhesi parties have ‘Madhes/ Terai’ in their name.
The Way Forward
Sher Bahadur Deuba would take over as the prime minister after Prachanda’s resignation. His tenure would be full of challenges; and the most immediate one would be to conduct the second phase of the local election within a few weeks, followed by two others – provincial and federal.
His government should address the demands of the Madhesis and create a favourable environment for free and fair elections, which will pave way for peace and stability in Nepal.
Pramod Jaiswal is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (New Delhi), and hails from Kathmandu, Nepal.