A week after the government announced the date of local elections, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Tuesday went directly to the people of the plains and asked them to participate in polls despite opposition from Madhesi leaders.
“This election is an opportunity for people in Madhes to express their grievances through ballot paper,” Dahal said. “I am confident that the people in the Madhes will take part in this historic process.”
Dahal used his address televised live to extol his own accomplishments, taking credit for ending load-shedding and speeding infrastructure projects like the Kathmandu-Tarai fast track road.
But he spent most of his 15-minute address trying to persuade the Madhesi parties and people to accept the Constitution and participate in elections.
“No other community needed this constitution more than the Madhesi people, and I can understand their grievances as I was elected from the Madhes,” he said.
Dahal said he was himself not fully satisfied with the content of the constitution but compromised on it because the forces that wanted to undermine the gains of the 2006 Democracy Movement were conspiring against it. He said these forces are still trying to undermine federalism, secularism and principles of inclusion by foiling the constitution and eventually dividing the country.
“I have a question to Madhesi people: will you want these forces to succeed in undermining our achievements and dividing the country?” he asked rhetorically.
Hours before his address, Dahal had held a meeting with Madhesi parties at Baluwatar, and tried to convince them to agree to local polls by postponing the constitution amendment bill. He said it was going to be difficult to secure a two-thirds majority to pass the bill, and the ruling coalition was ready to move it forward only if the Madhesi parties agreed to accept the outcome of the vote in Parliament on the amendment.
The Tarai-centirc parties are still against participating in local elections without amending the constitution first. However, they have kept the door open by saying they will negotiate with the ruling coalition. Dahal is now trying to appease Madhesi parties by creating more local government bodies in Province 2.
In Birganj, Umesh Sah Kanu turned on the tv in his tea shop on Tuesday evening as Dahal began his speech, and said the prime minister should agree on the amendment before announcing elections.
But he said it would not be wise for Madhesi parties call for more street protests. “Madhesi parties must press for the amendment. But if they do not succeed, they must do it by themselves by gaining more power from elections,” he said, sipping milk tea from a little plastic cup.
Jiyalal Sah in Birganj
Published – Nepali Times l Feb 27, 2017
With or without
In a televised address to the nation on Tuesday, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal urged the Madhesi people to express their grievances through the ballot box. Umesh Sah Kanu was watchingthe speech live in his Birganj sweet shop, and said it was “just sweet talk”.
Kanu says he is not sure if he will vote in local elections on 14 May if Madhesi parties boycott it. However, he does not support another agitation. The last one last year ruined his business.
Back in Kathmandu, talks between the government and the Madhesi Front were deadlocked again on Wednesday. Tarai-centric parties renewed threats to disrupt elections in the plains if the constitution is not amended first.
Birganj professor Lalan Dubedi says: “The common people here are not that concerned about the amendment. But they will not vote if there is fear of violence.”
In Janakpur, Prof Surendra Labh says it was never about the amendment or constitution. “Madhesis feel they are discriminated by the state, and the government made it worse by not including enough Madhesis in recent appointments of judges and ambassadors.”
Labh feels Madhesi parties need a face-saver to agree to elections: “If the statute is amended, they can go triumphantly to their constituencies, but whether that will address problems plaguing the plains is another issue.”
So far, the Madhesi parties are staying firm even though there is no way the proposed amendment will get a two-thirds vote in Parliament because the UML, RPP and MJF (D) are all against it for different reasons.
RPP Chair Kamal Thapa told PM Dahal his party will not support the amendment. Dahal then asked Madhesi leaders to put the amendment bill on hold and vote on it after local elections in May. Madhesi leaders refused.
“The amendment is just an excuse to avoid elections,” says UML Chief Whip Bhanubhakta Dhakal. “Madhesi parties will find another excuse if the Constitution is amended. There should be elections with or without them.”
Former PM Baburam Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti party is also opposed to elections, and wants an all-party government. He is now competing for the same constituency with the Sajha Party launched by journalist Rabindra Mishra this week.
Surendra Labh in Janakpur sums it up: “Elections can take place without the Madhesi parties. That may end the constitutional transition, but it will prolong the political transition.”
Om Astha Rai and Jiyalal Sah in Birganj
Published – Nepali TImes, Mar 1, 2017