Local Polls: Parties Put Heavy Stakes

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Mukti Rijal

Nepal is going to vote to elect the representatives for the local governments -- rural municipalities and municipalities -- tomorrow. The nation is now observing the Maun Awadhi (silence period) to allow the voters to be free from the cacophony of poll campaigning and reflect deeply internally about who to vote and help in gaining him or her victory in the elections. Though the campaigning duration has been shortened this time, candidates have descended down to the real battlefield to make best use of the short duration to assure that they get through the test in the hustling. 

Poll campaign

The candidates have this time made their campaigning very intense to reach out and connect to the voters donning the mask of being real friend and ally of the people. In fact, it is only during the elections that the candidates tend to go to the voters and beg for their support. They reincarnate themselves in the humble and modest garb and go to the people as if they were really committed to serve the ordinary populace and act at their beck and call. 

However, once they clinch the seat winning the support of the people, they are predisposed to forget the people, not to talk of fulfilling the promises they made with the people. Candidly speaking, the election has been, indeed, reduced to the drama enacted and re-enacted by the politicians of all hues and stripes to hoodwink the voters. This tendency among the political actors to give a damning raw deal to the voters has made a mockery of democracy in Nepal. The people have some opportunity to come face-to-face with their representatives at the time of the elections only. Most of the period of the people’s representatives is spent in fulfilling their own selfish interests.

They put their focus on seeking personal gains and benefits. This has generated frustration and disappointment among the people. The lukewarm response of the people to the ongoing electoral process and the kind of questions they have reportedly raised with the candidates visiting them indicates that the faith of the people on the conventional type politicians and political functionaries has eroded significantly. Some signals and indications emanating from the field these days portend that the participation of the people in this local polls may not be as positive and enthusiastic as expected. 

Against this backdrop, the issues raised by the parties in the local election manifesto need to be assessed and discussed. There has been an attempt on the part of the political parties competing in the elections to persuade and entice the voters with ambitious, sweet and unrealistic pledges and promises. The major parties have again stuck to their rhetoric and oblivious of the fact that they cannot meet and fulfill them. The local poll manifestoes mostly concentrate on the larger national issues at the neglect of the local issues affecting the larger masses of the people. 

The parties have raised the major economic, social and political issues which local government cannot handle properly even though the constitution has vested in them important mandates and competencies. There are some policy and institutional reform-related issues that have hindered the local governments to discharge their roles and responsibilities. But the parties like CPN-Maoist Centre, Nepali Congress, and CPN-UML have not touched upon these institutional reform issues and harped on the unrealistic capital intensive infrastructure development projects. In fact, in the last local elections too, parties had made similar tall order promises which were very difficult to fulfill.  

The parties should have taken lessons from the past to ensure that no unrealisable promises were made in their respective poll manifestoes. Parties should take cognizance of the fact that they have to be answerable to the people. When they had drafted the manifestoes, they should have made proper consultation with those who headed the local governments and gained experiences with regard to what is realisable and achievable.  

Democratic ethos 

The position based confrontational posturing of the political heavy weights indicates that they are going to repeat the same divisive and polarised tendencies to complicate the governance and development process at the local level.  Their differences seem to be very complicated and sharp. They feel that the compromises on some of the issues are similar to losing one’s own ground. How the parties conduct themselves through the democratic process will decide whether they will be able to deliver the promises and enhance the prospects for consolidation and enhancement of values and ethos of democracy. 

That the hollow promises and populist slogans, which cannot be delivered to bring about improvement in the real life of the people, brings defeat is illustrated in the local council polls held in the UK last week.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson who had won thumping majority in the parliamentary polls two years back has faced severe setback in the local elections losing out a majority of local council to the opposition Labour Party.  Analysts have attributed the unnecessarily provoked expectations of the people by the Tories (ruling conservative party) to the defeat in the local polls. Since voters today in Nepal have become critically aware and assess the veracity and applicability of the promises and pledges made to the people during the elections, parties should shun making tall and deceptive promises to lure the people over to them.

(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow.  rijalmukti@gmail.com)

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