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First Phase Local Elections of 2017

Issue May 2017

First Phase Local Elections of 2017

Siddhi B Ranjitkar


Passing through many high and low doubts about and suspicion of whether the local elections would be held or not, ultimately, voters went to polls on May 14, 2017 from the early morning to cast their votes to the most appropriate persons that would deliver the services to the local people needed from the State. The massive turnout of voters minimum 53 percent in Manang to the maximum 83 percent in Bhaktapur leading to an average of 73 percent as the Election Commission stated in the press conference held immediately after polls were closed has been the magnificent support for the new Constitution the people’s representatives have crafted and promulgated in 2015, and has laid the strongest foundation on the ground for democracy and republic.


Voters started off lining up at the polling booths as early as 5:00 AM to vote even though the polling booths were to open at 7:00 AM. Surely, they were not inspired by the party politics or the political ideology but by the anticipation of the electing the most appropriate persons for the local governments that would be responsible for delivering the State services to the people at the local level. Definitely, every elected person would have a political-party label but the voters must have elected them following their competency to deliver the services. The massive turnout of the voters could be attributed to the same reasons.


As old as 115 years, at least two women traveled on the back of their great grandsons to go to the polls and vote. Senior citizens, and handicaps voted, too. Young voters for the first time participating in the adult franchise lined up to use their rights to vote for one or more hours in the sizzling sun, in the heavy rains and nice cloudy environment depending on where they were, before getting to vote.


The highest turnout of voters was in Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu Valley, and the lowest turnout was in Manang behind the Himalaya. Bhaktapur has 83 percent whereas Manang has slightly more than 53 percent. Other districts have the voters’ turnout varied from 69 percent to 79 percent. The average turnout was 73 percent, which was the highest turnout of voters by any world standard. Most of the matured democracies took 60 percent voters as the turnout as high as possible.


The first-phase-local elections held on May 14, 2017 were for electing 283 local governments out of 287 the three provinces such as 3, 4, and 6 have in 34 districts out of the 75 districts of the country. Elections for the rest of the local governments postponed elsewhere for different reasons would be held latter. Most of the districts of these three provinces are in the hills and mountains except for the Chitwan. The second-phase elections for the local units in 1, 2, 5, and 7 provinces were scheduled for June 14, 2017.


Voters had been disciplined and tolerant despite some political parties tried to incite them to confrontation and conflict at some voting booths. So, elections have been held without any undesirable events at all polling booths except for the Melung voting booth in the Dolakha district, Namobuddha Municipality ward-4 in the Kavre district, and minor incidents in other polling booths.


The serious unpleasant incident had happened at the Melung voting booth when the CPN-UML cadres and NC cadres went on a head-on collision charging each other with trying to capture the voting booth. They had threatened the lives of voters and even the security causing the police to open fire killing Nakul Bhujel: a NC cadre. That was the unnecessary waste of the so beautiful young life.


Another event happened at the Namobuddha Municipality ward-4 in the Kavre district on the eve of the voting was the death of Nawaraj Pathak. The local people charged the security with the killing of the man but the security denied, rather said that an unidentified man on a motorbike opened a fire and killed the Pathak. The local people forced the Chief Election Officer to postpone the election until the culprit of killing the Pathak was found. The Election Commission said that the incident had nothing to do with the elections.


Otherwise voters turned up well in advance of opening the voting booths, and elections were held smoothly without any trouble, as the security of electorate, voting staffers and election officers the three circles of the security had ensured absolutely. So, voters voted at the 6,642 voting booths except for three booths where the objectionable events had led to close the voting booth.


The first circle of security was of the Nepal police that encircled the voting booth, the election officer, and other staffers. The second circle of the security was of the Armed Police force of Nepal that encircled the voting area. And, the third circle of security was of the Nepal Army overseeing the whole area for the security. The army had kept at least two helicopters standby to oversee the security in the remote areas in case of disturbances.


The highest possible turnout of voters has been the demonstration of the support for the new Constitution the people’s representatives had crafted and promulgated in 2015. This has been a challenge to the political leaders that have refused to accept it ‘as it is, stating it goes against some sect of the population’. Some Madheshi and ethnic leaders have been saying that the Constitution does not treat the Madheshi and ethnic people fairly.


The local elections have been the laying of the strong foundation for the democracy and republic. The local governments are the strong foundations, as they remain firmly in place for five years until the next elections. Nobody could remove them from the office for the term they were elected. The local governments would be stable, and they could work without the fear of their political bosses at the center. They are directly accountable to the voters. They have to present the accounts of their performances to the people during the next elections if they want to have their jobs for the next term.


Some political analysts said that the local elections would create a set of new young leaders without the blessing of the central political leaders. How far it would come true remains to be seen. For example, even in these first-phase of the elections, the NC central leader sent a letter of withdrawing the candidacy of the mayor position of the Chitwan Metropolitan City to honor the alliance the NC had reached with the Maoist-Center, as the NC candidate refused to withdraw his candidacy following the alliance with the Maoist-Center, the media reports stated.


The media reports and the politicians have highly hyped that the local elections would transfer the legislative, executive and even some judicial power from the center to the local governments. However, speaking to the anchor of the Radio-Nepal morning program called ‘antar-sambad,’ on May 15, 2017, former minister, ambassador, currently one of the members of the eminent group of Nepal reviewing the Nepal-India Friendship Treaty of Nepal of 1951: Mr. Nilambar Acharya said that the local governments have the power as the Constitution has provided not the power from the center has gone to the local government as the media have so touted.


The next most important thing happening is the representation of the women and other disadvantaged people in the local governments. The new Constitution has made the provision for the mandatory representation of women, dalits (formerly socially disadvantaged people), and handicapped people. More than 39 percent of the candidates in the first-phase local elections were the women. So, a significant number of women and disadvantaged people would be in the decision-making positions at the local level.


Some voters have complained that the ballot papers have been unusually large particularly in the areas where a number of political parties and independent candidates have been on the ballots. Voters voting on the party line might not have difficulty in finding the symbol of the party they are voting for, and then putting the stamp of the swastika symbol on all the columns in a row for electing mayors, deputy mayors, ward chiefs and ward members of municipalities or chiefs and deputy chiefs, ward chiefs and ward members of village councils. However, independent voters not voting on the party line but searching the most appropriate persons from different political parties and independent candidates would have hard time to look for the candidates of their choice from the different rows in the different columns. So, most of them took eight minutes or more to complete the voting whereas the voters voting on the party line took only three minutes.


Some voters complained that the security had been unnecessarily tightened not even allowing the door keys to the voters entering the voting booths. The home ministry had deployed temporarily hired 75,000 policemen and women for the elections in addition to the regular police, armed police and military forces. The tightened security was for the benefits of the voters and other stakeholders. So, the complaint that the security was too high was not justified from the security point of view. Security is necessary to avoid any unpleasant event. This time, the security was authorized to use the firearm whenever the situation arose to do so.


Some audio and visual media reported that youths continued to fly to foreign countries for jobs despite the local elections were going on in the country indicating youths had been indifferent to using their franchise. However, if anybody were to take a look at the percentage of voters’ participation in the current local elections, the number of Nepalese working in foreign countries has almost insignificant influence on the local elections. Even if the youths were to stay on in the country for voting, the percentage of voters taking part in the elections would unlikely to change.


The home ministry declared the holiday in the 3, 4, and 6 provinces on the first-phase-election day, and the Election Commission stopped any vehicle except for the vehicles that have special permits from the Election Commission, plying on the roads from the morning to 7:00 pm. All towns and markets became the ghost-like towns and markets. Everything was closed except for the voting booths where men and women solemnly lined up for a turn to vote. Kathmandu became free from the dust and vehicles fumes for the day. Any vehicle running on the roads without the special permit would run the risk of paying a fine of up to NPR 25,000.


Some political analysts said the elections were historic ones, as those elections were the first step to institutionalize the local governments in the steps to lay the foundation of federalism, democracy and republic. These elections would take the roots of democracy, development and republic so firmly and deep that no future dictator would be able to snatch away the power from the people, as did some despotic rulers in the past. If anybody were to dare to do so then the people would hang him or her to death in the public place for everybody to view, said some political analysts.


These local elections would ensure the grassroots-level democracy. Periodically, these elections would be held. So, the local level legislature, and executive would be in place without a break. The rule of law would be the regular business at the offices of the local governments. Anybody violating the rule of law would be placed under scrutiny. The only drawback could be the government setting the date for holding the local-level elections. If this provision is changed to the provision for making the elections are held on the day stated in the Constitution every five year, then, the Election Commission would not need to wait for the government to set a date for holding the local-level elections.


Some political analysts said that the local governments with so much of power in their hands were actually political and administrative experiment. They were uncertain how the local elected office holders would behave, how they would handle the local issues, how they would manage the required resources for running the administration for the service delivery to the people.


Others believed that none of the issues were the problem. The local people have the most up-to-date political awareness. Voters would keep the local elected officials at alert not to commit any irregularity in the service delivery and in running the administration. So, those elected officials might not listen even to their political bosses at the center, and would perform their duty without a hitch for not putting their local level political career in jeopardy.


Some others even believed that Nepal had the history of King Tribhuvan freed by the people’s uprising from practically under the house arrest of the then Rana prime ministers had sold the crown the then last Rana prime minister surrendered to him in the USA, and used the money for his medical treatment in Switzerland in mid 1951.


Then, King Mahendra sold the Narayanhity palace to the State, pocketed the money and continued to live in the palace in 1960s. Some people depicted Mahendra as the most nation-building-development-oriented and nationalist king without knowing his real motives for his every political decision.


Then, some of the elected officials of the local governments Mahendra had named as the Village Panchayats and municipal Panchayats in the Constitution of 1962, had sold the publicly owned buildings such as resting places for the visitors and the hangout places for the local people (pati and pauwa), and pocketed the money. Mahendra was happy to let the business go as usual at the local level even though the elected officials misappropriated the public buildings, as long as none of them dared to question his political businesses.


It was natural that some smart political analysts questioned the locally elected officials whether those elected officials would repeat the history of the Panchayat regime. This is a valid question but the current situation is different from the past Panchayat system. At that time, the elected officials were not accountable to the voters. Some of them used the local elections as the stepping-stones to the apex body called national Panchayat. They had the protection from the then kings.


Currently, the elected officials are directly accountable to the voters. No king would be available for the elected officials to save from the actions of the voters if the elected officials were to commit irregularities in the businesses of the local governance.


So, even if the local governance is the experimental one, as some political analysts liked to call it, it would be an unique example for not only the South Asian countries to follow but also the rest of the world, as the unprecedented involvement of women and other disadvantaged people in the local governance, would highly expedite the local development in the years to come. Certainly, Nepal would set the example of the local governance. Local governments would be the unifying elements in the federal system.


May 16, 2017

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