Local Polls Deepen Democracy


Prof. Bhupa P. Dhamala

It might be worthwhile to quote Abraham Lincoln’s famous political statement, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” at a time when local elections are going to be held on May 13 throughout the country. It looks like Lincoln’s statement is as relevant in today’s world as it was uttered in Lincoln’s time in the American situation. As a matter of fact, people themselves are their own government. The representatives are chosen only for people’s convenience for work, as we know it is impossible to hold meetings and decide things in a crowd of a large number of people. 

As election is approaching, political parties are intensively engaged in nominating their representatives for the local executive and legislative positions through adult franchise. Likewise, political actors are roaming from door to door, asking for the vote from the general people promising to do this and that which may or may not be realised once the leaders are elected. Many a time, they have failed to keep their promises, blaming the other parties’ obstruction, which in fact, is nothing more than the pretext for not being able to do what they were expected to do.

Poll promises 

As was always done, political parties have now nominated their candidates for various posts at the local level. Needless to reiterate, they have promised to make their municipalities a perfect model so that the people would be prosperous and happy. Whatever the outcome might be, people are still hopeful about their prosperous future – development projects would come to their door, productivity would increase, per capita income would rise, purchasing power would be higher, and above all, quality of life would improve. There is nothing wrong with the leaders’ promises and followers’ expectations. 

Many more parties are intensively involved in the election process advocating their respective causes, whereas a limited few, possibly not more than two, would more efficiently do. It is interesting to note that even the candidates from the same party have filed their candidacy against the party’s official candidates, which goes against the party discipline despite every citizen’s right to vote and be a candidate. A large number of candidates in the election confuse the voters more. The higher the number of parties and their candidates, the more confused general people are likely to be. This may happen in this election, too. 

The local election, just like the provincial and federal elections, has now become the centre of attraction to many as the election fever has risen high. Further, this has been the bone of contention in many places, often resulting in hostility and feud for nothing. Ironically enough, the candidates of the election are not so much talking about the party’s policies and programmes as they are talking gossip, much ado about nothing. It is thus regrettable to say many political actors are still more guided by instinct than by reason, rendering themselves to be premature to be engaged in down-to-earth politics. In many cases, they even tend to become egocentric to serve their personal interests. We have seen in the past unnecessary strife between the parties and the leaders, which in fact, is the malpractice of democracy for no genuine cause. 

Looking at the way political actors are thinking and behaving, we cannot be hopeful about the future course of politics. Yet we should not be disappointed as we previously were. It is valid to argue that every new age is at least one step more forward and progressive than the previous one. It is thus urgently necessary to change the undesirable trend in the election and establish the trend of a free and fair election, allowing people freely to choose whom they like depending on the worth of their attitudes and behaviours. We should put the cause before the party, and we should put the party before the candidate.

It is essential to understand that the essence of democracy is people’s right to vote in periodic elections to elect the leaders that they like. As long as the programmes, policies, and actions of the elected leaders are satisfactory, they can also be reelected. But if the elected leaders go against the people’s aspirations or become rampantly corrupt, the voters can vote for another party or candidate in the next election. Such things are possible only in the system of periodic elections, which only can sustain democracy.

Periodic elections are held after a fixed number of years in democracies all over the world. The constitution has provisioned for periodic elections every five years at all levels. The purpose of periodic elections is to find a better alternative to the undesirable ones sweeping away all dirt around. The sooner the filth is swept away, the cleaner the democracy becomes. Just as freshwater makes a river clean, so fresh elections make the democratic system alive. In this respect, fresh elections are as essential for democracy as freshwater for the river. 

Foundation of democracy 

Since local leaders are closest to the village/town dwellers, they form a truly democratic base. It is highly expected that they should work in unison even after the election, no matter which party they belong to. As quoted above, democracy springs from the grassroots, where rural/ urban people have the right to choose whomever they like. The same person may be elected again if they are capable, honest, and hardworking. That person may be rejected if they lack such qualities. 

Unlike the provincial and federal elections that are held to form the provincial and federal governments, the local elections are held to form the local governments, which are the foundations of democracy, local leaders being the backbone of the nation as they are the people of the immediate concern to better understand the local people’s needs and aspirations. We should thus loudly say, “Let local elections strengthen democracy.”

(The author is the chairman of Molung Foundation. bhupadhamala@gmail.com)

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