With the constitutional deadline to hold all three sets of elections fast approaching, no one is in a position to answer this question affirmatively.
--BY SHANT SHARMA
Will Nepal be able to hold all three levels of elections - local, provincial and federal - within January 21, 2018, as mandated by the new constitution promulgated in September 2015? This is one of the biggest questions boggling the minds of many in Nepal including politicians, business community and the general public. However, with the constitutional deadline to hold all three sets of elections fast approaching, no one is in a position to answer this question affirmatively.
The local polls which were to be held in one go on May 14 had to be conducted in three phases, owing to the poll boycott and disruption threat by the Madhes-based Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN). While two rounds of local elections have been held so far, the third round in Province 2 is slated for September 18. Elections to the provincial assemblies and the central or federal parliament are yet to be held.
As per an earlier roadmap, the Election Commission (EC) had prepared to conduct the provincial elections in mid-October and central parliamentary elections within November this year. But now the possibility of holding the elections as per this roadmap is out of question, say EC officials. "Several works related to poll preparations are lagging behind the schedule. It's not possible to hold the remaining elections as per the earlier roadmap," media reports quoted Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Ayodhee Prasad Yadav as saying recently.
Given the short time left for conducting the upcoming elections, the EC had asked the government to clear the legal hurdles within mid-July and settle the constituency delineation issues by July end. The government formed the Constituency Delineation Commission (CDC) on July 20 and its office bearers assumed office on July 23. The five-member CDC has been given 21 days to complete its task i.e. bringing down the number of constituencies for federal parliament to 165 from the current 240 and the number of provincial constituencies to 330.
Redefining the boundaries of the constituencies of provincial and federal parliaments is not an easy job. The CDC has not begun this task yet, citing the lack of staff and has requested the government to provide the required staff at the earliest. Election experts say there is no way the CDC can complete its task before August 20. "Similarly, if we leave a month's interval between the two elections - provincial and federal - the EC is left with exactly four months to hold the provincial and federal parliament elections," observes former chief election commissioner Neelkantha Uprety.
Uprety's observation gives rise to another very important question: Can the EC hold two sets of elections in four months' time?
"We don't have much time. The constitution has a provision to conduct all sets of elections within January 21, 2018. We have to act while time remains," says EC chief Yadav, hinting at the difficulty of holding the remaining elections within the constitutional deadline.
There is another big hurdle to the elections: laws related to the provincial and central parliamentary elections are yet to be formulated. The bills related to these laws have been pending in parliament for a long time but so far the government hasn't found time to move these bills forward in the House.
It seems, however, that the government has already realized that it's not possible to hold the elections to both the provincial and federal parliaments within the constitutional deadline. That should be why, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in a meeting with the election commissioners on July 27 proposed to hold both the provincial and federal elections on the same day. A day later, former Prime Minister and chairman of the main opposition CPN-UML, KP Sharma Oli seconded Deuba's proposal. Leaders of other parties such as the ruling CPN (Maoist Center) and Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RRP), too, have liked the idea of holding both provincial and federal elections in one go.
Former CEC Uprety says it will save time and a lot of money if the provincial and federal elections are held on the same day. According to him, the government will save nearly Rs 18 billion if the two elections are held in one go. "The government spent around Rs 10 billion to ensure security for the two rounds of local polls. Similarly, the EC spent more than Rs 6 billion on mobilizing election officials, printing of ballot papers, voters' education, election related training and transportation. It is estimated that Rs 2 billion will be spent on holding the third round of local election in Province 2. Thus, the cost of just the local polls is estimated to be around Rs 18 billion," Uprety said, "If the provincial and federal elections are held in one go, we can conduct two elections at the cost of one election."
So, the ball now seems to be in the EC's court. If it decides to hold both the provincial and federal elections in one go, then the country can meet the constitutional deadline to hold all three sets of elections. Otherwise, Article 296 of the new constitution that requires all three sets of elections - local, provincial and federal - to be held by January 21, 2018, will have to be amended.