Yuba Nath Lamsal
The local elections are over. The results from most of the places have already been announced. Nepali voters enthusiastically participated and voter turnout was relatively satisfactory. Elections were largely peaceful, free and fair. The Election Commission, the government, security organs and political parties deserve commendation for their role and hard work in making the election successful, peaceful and impartial.
This is the second time local elections were held under the present federal and republican constitution which was promulgated seven years ago in 2015. The tradition of the local election in Nepal is not a new as this practice goes back long ago. Even during the Panchayat regime, elections used to be held for the local units which used to be called Nagar Panchayat and Gaun Panchayat. But Nagar and Gaun Panchayats were not independent local bodies and thus such elections were not genuine ones. However people were accustomed with the election despite the fact that elections during Panchayat were not free, fair and independent.
The election was only among the candidates, which were loyal to the Panchayat and the king. Those who were opposed to the Panchayat regime and those who advocated the multi-party democratic system used to be barred from participating in any political process. In other words, basic democracy and human rights had been summarily restricted and denied during the Panchayat regime. The democratic rights of the people were restored only after the 1990 political change.
After the restoration of multi-party democracy in 1990, two local elections were held. But the local bodies prior to 2015 were not genuinely local governments and they enjoyed only limited powers granted by the Local Self-governance Act. The present constitution has formally declared Nepal as a federal republic in which local bodies — municipalities and village councils — enjoy autonomous authority. Thus, local elections have institutionalised democracy at the grassroots level and empower the people. Federalism is said to be one of the major political achievements of Nepal which was attained following the Jana Aandolan II of 2006.
After formally adopting federal model of the government, state was restructured into three levels —federal, provincial and local level. State has been restructured into seven provincial level, and 753 local units (municipalities and village councils) with full authority of governance. The practical experiences over the last five years of federal government have been definitely mixed. The municipalities and village councils have proved their worth which was felt visibly during the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people still argue about the relevance of the provincial governments. They are of the view that two tiers (central or federal level and local level (municipalities and village councils) with full executive authority will be the best option for Nepal.
However, the constitution has stipulated for three tiers of the federal system including the provincial level and such arguments do not hold any significance at this point and we cannot turn the clock of history backward. We have no option other than working with it and strengthen it. As local bodies are armed with executive powers, it is said that the Singha Durbar (central secretariat of the government) has reached every doorstep of the people. At the same time, cynical views have the day that disparage the present federal structure saying that with Singha Durbar reaching the local level misrule and power abuse, too, have accompanied with it.
Everything has its both bright and dark sides, so is with the federal system. The defect is not with the system but with those who handle it. Federalism is in principle good that seeks to devolve and decentralise power to the local level and empower people at the grassroots level. If there are any defects in handling with it, there is always room for correction and improvement. The federal system that our constitution has enshrined seeks to empower people at the local level which the unitary model of the past denied. Thus, it is, now, the duty of all to make this system work more effectively and efficiently at the larger interest of the country and the people.
The local elections have further strengthened and institutionalised our governance system. In the election, the result has been mix. The biggest winner is the Nepali Congress which has own the largest number of local bodies followed by CPN-UML. The CPN-Maoist Centre has come out the third. Other parties including Janata Samajwadi, CPN-Unified Socialist, Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Loktantrik Samajwadi have also made their presence in different municipalities and village councils. It is not the question which party won and which party lost. The fundamental issue is democracy and our constitution have triumphed.
Periodic elections are the basic tenets of democracy. Holding election alone does not meet the preconditions of a functioning democracy. Elections are held under authoritarian regimes, too, but such elections are only to deceive the international community. Democratic elections must meet and maintain certain universally accepted standards and norms. Despite some drawbacks, our elections meet basic international norms and standards, which international community, too, has recognised and appreciated.
New and fresh faces have been elected with responsibility of manning the local governments and dealing with the local issues of local people. There are huge expectations of the people, which the political parties and candidates themselves raised through their election manifestos and promises made during the election canvassing. Now people have discharged their duty by participating in the election and choosing their representatives. Now onus lies on the elected representatives to translate the promises made during the election.
They definitely may not be able to do everything they have promised given the limited resources the local bodies have. But they need to prioritise the issues and accordingly address them. One most important aspect they need to do is to rise from the partisan mentality on issues concerning local development. The efficient delivery of services and transparency are the foundation of good governance, to which new representatives are required to pay serious attention to their duty.
(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. firstname.lastname@example.org)