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MR Josse: Poll Boycott Will Be Political Hara-Kiri

Poll Boycott Will Be Political Hara-Kiri

By MR Josse

The Election Commission (EC)'s recent announcement that the election process for 58 municipalities would commence on January 26, 2006 and culminate in elections for the same on February 8, 2006 follows King Gyanendra's declaration in his New Year message that municipal elections would be held by April 13, 2006.

Thus, the EC announcement did not come as any surprise. Neither surprising was the dissenting parties' decision to boycott the polls. Nevertheless, their post-poll date announcement reactions are instructive, as are comments by other political parties.

UML chief Madhav Kumar Nepal said the seven-party alliance had decided to boycott the polls by an "unconstitutional government" and predicted that "the polls further increases conflict between the King and the parties."

NC general secretary Ram Chandra Poudel termed it an "eyewash", while Hridesh Tripathy of the Sadbhavana's Anandi splinter declared it was aimed at "confusing and taking the international community by surprise." From his hometown Biratnagar, NC chief Girija Prasad Koirala took an even more bellicose stance instructing party cadres to disrupt the forthcoming municipal elections.

Meanwhile, Narayan Man Bijuchhe of the Nepal Workers' and Peasants' Party chimed in saying that his party adhered to the seven-party decision on boycott.

On the other hand, leaders of other parties have indicated that they will participate. One is Padma Sundar Lawoti, RPP Vice-Chairman, who declared the RPP would participate irrespective of what other parties do.

Likewise, Samata Party chairman, Narayan Singh Pun, categorically stated: "We will take part in the election as it is the only measurement of democracy."

Similarly, speaking in Dharan, Major Sraban Kumar Limbu, central vice president of the Rashtriya Janmukti Party stated that "we will participate at the local polls." Former major of Dharan, Bam Devan, challenged them to try and win elections in all 58 municipalities.

Since then, the King, in his Bada Dashain message on October 12, has instructed the EC to hold parliamentary elections by mid-April 2007. While that, too, has jolted the dissenting parties, it has demonstrated that the King is committed to putting the derailed political process back on track, as soon as possible, all propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding.

Political Hara-kiri Quite apart from the conflicting statements by politicians on the polls, a number of observations need to be made. Perhaps the most important is that it is the King who continues to back elections as a means to re-energise the stalled political process, while the parties that rhetorically champion the cause of democracy are threatening to boycott them!

Also significant is that as the King is not going to contest the elections, he has no special interest in ensuring that any particular party or individual emerges victorious. Nevertheless, in his Bada Dashain message he has appealed to the international community to ensure that the electoral process is dignified, free and fair.

Be that as it may, if the dissenting parties do not participate the vacuum will inevitably be filled by other political players. Admittedly, while it would be preferable that they too contest, the nation cannot be held to ransom forever by their whims or diktats. Neither can the people be denied their inherent right to elect their representatives without any further ado – beginning at the level of the municipality.

Notably, there is no provision in the Constitution that defines the number of parties that must participate in elections for polls to be legitimate. Similarly, there are a large number of political parties that have been registered by the EC. Each one of them has as much a right to participate as any of the seven parties threatening boycott.

Incidentally, the notion of big or small parties is constitutionally irrelevant if not discriminatory. Election results solely determine which parties are the most popular – no other measure is credible. Moreover, the idea that a group of political parties can claim special status, based on past elections, is deeply flawed as it militates against the essence of democracy: that the electorate has the inalienable right, exercised at elections, to reward or punish contestants as they deem fit.

Politics is not static; neither is the popular mood. Politicians need to keep that in mind, as do all who back their absurd once-elected-forever-elected contention that lies at the core of their demand for a reinstatement of a parliament that was constitutionally dissolved and whose life has long since expired.

Thus, while the dissenting parties have the right not to participate, a decision to boycott the municipal polls will be tantamount to political hara-kiri. I am not sure (a) that they might not reconsider their rash boycott threats before the electoral process actually gets underway or (b) that groups who wish to participate may not splinter and join in the hustings.

Only time will tell for sure.


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