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The Toll of Local Polls

By P. Kharel
pkharel1Now that the first two phases of local polls are over, one can take stock of the situation, whatever the fate and outcome of the third phase scheduled for autumn.As was the case in the first phase earlier, the second phase, last fortnight, too, gave the main opposition Communist Party of Nepal (UML) the largest number of mayoral seats.
Held after 20 years of democracy and loktantra, the long-awaited, but excessively party-activated, exercise has shown which political force stands where. The Nepali Congress could not prevent the “communists” from overtaking it in the victory tally this time also.
What went wrong with the Congress and others that made lofty claims of “showing” their strength in the elections dubbed as the “pillar” of the implementation process of the new Constitution?Complacency, lethargy and unprincipled stance and silence, prodded solely by the strategy of inducting itself in power, are the factors that led it to a status behind UML.
Technically, the next and final local elections, that is, when they do take place, just might result in a different outcome but even if that happened, the existing voters’ mood in general should ring a warning bell to the Nepali Congress. The loktantrik decade has shown how opportunistic the “democrats” have become in seeking power.
LOW CREDIBILITY: Here, the gruesome political culture displayed in such gory manner after the 1994 snap elections created a hung parliament when machination and horse-trading went amok might be recalled. As a result, the credibility of political parties dipped so low that the downfall’s ripples are felt even today.The past did shadow the May-June phases of local polls, which have proved to be an eye opener.
In the second phase, Nepal Loktantrik Forum collected two seats, saving BijayGachchhdar’s the face and claim in the second phase elections. RastriyaPrajatantra Party leader Kamal Thapa, with only four levels units out of the 330-plus levels, will have to do some hard thinking for concrete action. UML leader can take satisfaction from both the phases, enabling the party to emerge as the largest. Prime Minister SherBahadurDeuba has reasons to worry about his rivals in the party raising their heads for forcefully against his leadership.
UML previously was seen as distinctly behind NC. Not any longer. Today, there is speculation whether it might, in the next general elections latest by January, race past the party that led “all the democratic revolutions”. UML from the two phases emerges as a formidable force that createsvibrant stirs in his group, and headache and heartburns for the NC and others. RPP lost the sails in the local polls.  It needs to end internal squabbles for the last chance in the parliamentary polls.
So far, the two new parties, Sajha and Bibeksheel, proved to be a typhoon over a tea cup. They drew a blank. Proposing integrity and honesty is not enough. There are hundreds of thousands of people with such credentials in ample measure.
Across the country, today, money, organisation and deep-seated politicisation of all social, political, professional and bureaucratic sectors are at work. Extremely rare are the requisite skill, stamina and patience for building nationwide trust. Sajha and Bibeksheelassert possession of these qualities. They could try their hands with renewed zeal in the impending provincial and parliamentary polls before the year ends by demonstrating far more organisational skill than they did recently!
GLARING: Could the notoriously high percentage of invalid votes in Kathmandu and Lalitpurdistricts have affected the Sajha and Bibeksheel parties in the first phase?Nearly one-fifth of the votes cast were declared kaput.Lalitpur and Kathmandu districts recorded the highest and second highest percentage of invalid votes at some 17 per cent. Kathmandu Metropolis itself recorded invalid votes to the tune of 19.43 per cent.
Interestingly, Kathmandu and Lalitpurdistricts boast the largest concentrations of elite schools and colleges as well as who send their children to these highly expensive private institutions.But they are the least ballotpaper literate.In contrast, the remote Manangand Jumla districts recorded 7per cent and 11.5 per cent invalid votes while Chitwan recorded the lowest percentage of invalid votes at 5.2 per cent.
The Election Commission’s spokesman, Surya Prasad Aryal, attributed the disappointing spurt in invalid votes to “not having much time” for voter education. The irony is that the EC headquarters is located literally at the heart of the capital city, and barely three kilometers from the heart of Lalitpur city.
Some quarters suggest that local polls be contested on non-party basis, focusing exclusively on local issues and development. But then parties that do not spare from politicisationschool, college and university students and teachers, artistes, school teachers, civil servants, and professional groups like engineers and medical doctors, how can one realistically expect the political parties to keep out from actively being involved in local polls and local bodies?

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