The last word from the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) is that they can’t go ahead with local polls whatsoever unless the Maoist-NC government’s proposal for amendment of the constitution – which is in favour of Madhesi demands – has been passed. The Madheshi Morcha (SLMM) even pledged just a few days ago that if local elections are announced without meeting their demands with respect to the constitution, they will return to violent protest.
Huge obstacles in the way of local elections still exist – at least last time we checked – such as the dispute over delineation of provinces under the new constitution and the restructuring of local units. Will Dahal somehow make local elections happen now, nevertheless? Indeed, promises of local elections have been notoriously broken in the past. But optimism with a dash of caution could seem in order… (another update will follow soon).
The new constitution provides for three tiers of government: below the central level is the “provincial level”, the boundaries of which are still undecided, and the “local level”, undecided too. All that’s agreed is that the local units must be fewer and bigger than the current VDCs.
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Says NRA chief, Sushil Gyawali, as he recapitulates the reasons why his newly formed reconstruction authority is making such slow progress in rebuilding houses and local infrastructure: “The biggest challenge is to mobilise people. The lack of elected representatives has made it more difficult for us to work at the grassroot level.” Without strong local leadership, it is more difficult to do planned work such as counting and registering the earthquake victims, issuing victim IDs, distributing grant money, and simply getting reconstruction off it’s so far heavy feet. Elected local leaders who typically command greater respect than outside officials do would make a huge difference to reconstruction, Gyawali explains. He adds:
It was a turbulent week in the “life” of local elections in Nepal last month – as it’s been several times before. On July 8 President Ram Baran Yadav presented the government’s policy programme in parliament for the next fiscal year – 2015-16 – and made clear that “local polls” are a major priority area. In fact, the reconstitution of elected local bodies – dissolved since 2002 – is a prerequisite, the President made clear, to an efficient reconstruction process in the earthquake-affected districts. So, for those eager to again see elected local politicians coming to power, this was a major cause of optimism!
Never since the 1950s has Nepal been without elected local bodies for so long. How long has it been? Well, more than a decade. The last local election was held in 1997, and the popular mandate expired back in 2001/02. So it’s been a while! Since King Gyenendra took power in 2002, and continuously under the more recent governments, the local bodies – the DDCs, VDCs, and municipalities – have officially been left to civil servants. In 2008, so-called local multiparty committees were established, but only to serve in an advisory role. They were comprised of the respective local parties and meant to ensure people’s participation in local government. At first, the arrangement