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Nepal: Local Bodies Elections and Challenges Ahead: Update no. 338

Note No. 772                             Dated 29-Sep-2016
 
By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
 
According to the Constitution, the Nepal government will have to complete elections to the local bodies, regional  and the national levels by 21 January 2018.  
 
Accordingly, the former Oli Government made an unrealistic calendar for all the three elections spread over 2017 to meet the dead line.  As was the style of former PM Oli, besides making big pronouncements nothing was done at the ground level to proceed with the plan.
 
The local bodies in Nepal have been defunct since July 2002 and there has been virtually no administration in the interior villages ever since the Maoist insurgency began.  It was hoped that once the insurgency was over, government’s writ will quickly be established by holding the local bodies elections.  But it was not to be. Every attempt to conduct the elections had been thwarted by one party or the other so far. First it was the Maoists who wanted to retain their influence in the interior and later by other parties who wanted postponement on some grounds or other.
 
But now the new constitution ( one year has just passed with no progress!) has mandated that all the elections will have to be completed before the deadline of January 2018.  
 
The Local Body Restructuring Commission that was formed to delineate the local bodies and recommend to the government had almost completed its study and was about to submit its report.  The recommendation was to have 565 local bodies and the Commission had said that this figure was based on the basis of “constitutional spirit, demography, distribution and access to services provided as also those related to collection of revenue.”  
 
This body consisted of non partisan and wise members who had done a painstaking study of the issues before finalising the recommendations.
 
Even before the announcement of the report, some of the political bodies were up in arms against the number.  The Madhesis wanted the number to relate to the proportion of population while others wanted to increase the number to 900 or more. There were some wise people who called for status quo and wanted the elections to the expedited based on the current configuration as any change would only delay the elections.
 
The three major parties- the Nepali Congress, the UML and the Maoists decided suddenly on 25th of this month to change the terms of reference at this  late stage.  The Madhesi groups were  not consulted as has been the habit of the three major parties.
 
Of the new terms of reference- one was a directive to keep the existing “Ilakas” (area clusters) in tact and add on the VCs where necessary.  Another was to give priority to convenience and accessibility while delineating the local units.
 
This would involve reverting back almost to what was in place since 25 years ago when there were 927 Ilakas.  The present modified proposal would come to about 900 local units.  
 
This proposal of the three major main parties has been strongly opposed by the Madhesi groups particularly the TMDP, RPP (N) and most importantly by the Commission (LLRC) itself.
 
It is being made out that the decision of the three main parties and the direction given to the Commission formed under the Constitution are unconstitutional.  This is not a correct legal provision.  Provision for forming the LLRC comes under the transitional provisions and are only to help the government to take a view and proceed with the elections.
 
While it is perfectly acceptable for the government to make new terms of reference or even to reject the recommendations, what would happen now is that even the first phase of the three tier elections- local, provincial and national is going to be delayed and the dead line of January 21 2018 cannot be met.
 
The second is the habit of the three major parties to ignore the Madhesis totally in deciding on the future of the country as a whole.  This will only further alienate the Madhesis who are already feeling left out in the whole issue of constitution making.
 
One good point that has emerged  however is that the UML is now talking to the other two parties- the NC and the Maoists and it is hoped that with the present unity they  will be able to come out with an acceptable formula for the delineation of Madhesi Province or Provinces.   
 
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