Jun 17, 2017- A hard-pressed Sher Bahadur Deuba government on Thursday decided to postpone the local elections in Province 2 until September 18 as part of its effort to bring the agitating Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N) on board the poll process.
The decision was taken despite strong reservations from the Election Commission (EC), which had earlier in the day said postponing polls could invite a political disaster. The main opposition, CPN-UML, has taken serious exception to the government’s decision.
As per the new developments, second phase of local polls will now be held only in Provinces 1, 5 and 7 on the previously announced date of June 28.
But uncertainty over the RJP-N’s participation in the polls continued even after the decision to delay voting in Province 2, raising the spectre of a political crisis of Deuba’s two earlier stints as prime minister. Deuba’s failure to hold elections in 2002 and 2005 continues to haunt him—on one occasion then king Gyanendra had even labelled him “incompetent”—and within his party, the Nepali Congress, his political legacy is often termed dubious, albeit furtively.
A Congress central committee member, also a former minister, says Deuba’s “chequered past” oftentimes does put the entire party rank and file on the tenterhooks. “But if a decision is taken [by Deuba], we will have to accept it,” he says, giving a sense of how within the largest and oldest party “committed members” toe the line of the party boss.
And reactions from the leaders of the RJP-N may give Deuba a sense of déjà vu of his earlier election fiasco.
Even after the decision to postpone polls in Province 2, some RJP-N leaders were of the view that it was a “unilateral move”, in an indication that it was too little too late.
They said a meeting of the Sanghiya Gathabandhan, a broader alliance of the RJP-N and Janajati forces, will make public its position on the government decision on Friday, a leader said.
“All the leaders who are in the districts have been asked to reach the Capital,” said RJP-N leader Brikhesh Chandra Lal. Top RJP-N leaders including Rajendra Mahato, Rajkishor Yadav and Anil Jha are in the districts to lead the protests.
But Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education Gopal Man Shrestha, who is also the government’s spokesperson, said the decision to delay polls in Province 2 was taken after the agitating forces gave their word to withdraw protests and participate in the elections. He claimed that the move was taken to avoid confrontation.
But that won’t wash with the RJP-N.
“The Gathabandhan is likely to focus its protests on other three provinces, especially Province 1 and Province 5, as the government seems to be thinking our presence is lmited to Province 2,” said Keshav Jha, in an indication that poll deferral only in Province 2 is unacceptable and that it wants polls to be postponed in all the provinces.
Earlier in the morning, the Election Commission had told the governing parties—the Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Centre)—that it would not be able to hold polls if they were postponed now.
After his meeting with top leaders of the governing parties, including PM Deuba, Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav, said he told the leaders and the government that “it is not possible to postpone the elections”.
While the UML has vehemently objected to the decision of poll deferral, Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal Chairman Upendra Yadav said, “The decision is a serious blow to the existence of Madhes”. Buoyed by the results of the first phase elections, the UML is likely to step up pressure on the government against the decision to poll deferral.
Despite government claims that the decision was taken in line with the RJP-N’s demand, its leaders say their demands of constitution amendment among others are yet to be addressed. The erstwhile government of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Deuba’s ally, had promised an amendment, which the UML vehemently opposes, before the second phase of polls. The Deuba government, however, is yet to make a move towards that end.
Given this, Deuba’s return to power, it seems, has come at a precarious time.
Nomination deadline pushed to Sunday
The Election Commission (EC) on Thursday decided to extend the nomination filing deadline for the second phase of local elections to June 18 as per the request from the government which earlier in the day decided to delay voting in Province 2.
An EC meeting on Thursday evening decided to extend the deadline.
After discussions with the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal, which is in protests against the June 28 local elections, the governing parties had requested the EC to extend the deadline for nomination filing, saying “candidates are yet to be finalised in view of the confusion over elections”.
“We have extended the nomination filing deadline to Sunday following the request from the government,” Election Commissioner Sudheer Shah told the Post.
In a bid to bring the agitating RJP-N on board the poll process, the government has rescheduled voting in Province 2 for September 18. The poll body, however, has expressed its reservations about the decision.
“Since the government holds the authority to fix the election date, the EC can do nothing except following the decision despite reservations,” said Shah.
As per the new schedule, parties have to file nominations on June 18 and the list of the candidates will be published the same day. Complaints against the candidates, if there are any, can be registered on June 19.
The EC on June 20 will publish a list of candidates after looking into the complaints. The candidates will be allowed to withdraw their names the same day.
The EC will publish the final list of candidates and provide them electoral symbols on June 21.
The second phase of elections now will be held in Provinces 1, 5 and 7 on June 28.