When should the local elections be held?

Election Commission says by May next year. Political parties don’t seem to be prepared.

As the ruling coalition faces a breakdown risk over the parliamentary ratification of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact, an American grant under which Nepal will receive $500 million, there have been talks if the country could head to general elections earlier than the schedule—November-December next year.

CPN-UML, the main opposition, has not hidden its desire to go for polls early. After all, its chair KP Sharma Oli had dissolved the House of Representatives twice—on December 20 last year and May 21 this year. He argued that only a fresh mandate from the people can provide stability to the country. The Supreme Court, however, overturned Oli’s decisions on both occasions.

And then Oli was ousted on July 12 by the Supreme Court which installed Nepali Congress’ Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister. Even a year after Oli’s House dissolution move, politics has remained the same in Nepal, failing to move forward.

Deuba is backed by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha. The partners have been trying to take the coalition forward at least until the next general elections. Deuba’s push for the MCC, however, has created confusion in the coalition, and speculations are rife that the alliance could fracture. In that case, some believe general elections could happen early.

Amid all the talk about the general elections, no one looks concerned about the local elections.

On May 14, 2017, the country held the first phase of the first local elections in 20 years in 34 districts of three provinces—Bagmati, Gandaki and Karnali.

As many as 13,556 representatives were elected for 283 local governments (municipalities and rural municipalities). In the next five months, their terms will end.

The Election Commission says it needs at least 100 days (a little over three months) to prepare for the polls and the elections must be completed at least 15 days before the incumbent representatives’ terms end.

“The existing local governments can stay until the latest by May 20 next year as per the legal and constitutional provisions,” Dinesh Thapaliya, chief election commissioner, told the Post. “Elections must be held 15 days before the existing representatives’ terms end so that new ones can replace them.”

The government, however, has not communicated to the Election Commission regarding local elections.

The commission’s officials say they are planning to propose local elections by May 3, 2022 if they are to be conducted in a single phase. The commission has sought appointment with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to propose the election dates. Thapaliya said they will be meeting him “within a week”.

If the polls are held in two phases, it should start latest by April 28 next year, according to Thapaliya.

Article 225 of the Constitution of Nepal says the term of local governments shall be five years from the date of the election.

As per Clause 55 of the Local Level Election Act, 2016, the terms of local representatives start from the seventh day of the election date. As the first phase of local elections was held on May 14, 2017 the terms of the local representatives are deemed to have begun from May 20. This means new representatives must be elected by then so as to avoid a vacuum.

“The government has a maximum of a month to declare the poll dates because we need 100 days for preparations,” said Thapaliya.

Officials at the commission and constitutional experts say there will be a constitutional crisis if local elections are not held in the next five months.

Even though there are less than six months for the local elections, at least in three provinces, parties have not even said a word.

And many of them, especially from the ruling alliance, do not want the elections by the deadline.

The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and CPN (Unified Socialist) are exploring options to delay the local polls by extending the terms of the existing local governments.

“We are for holding all three levels of elections in one go in November-December next year,” Lila Mani Pokhrel, a standing committee member of the Maoist Centre, told the Post. “The constitution gives room to extend the terms of the existing government by six months.”

Article 225 also says the next local governments shall be elected no later than six months after the expiration of the terms of the existing ones. However, a new Act is necessary to implement the provision which is yet to be drafted by the government.

Officials at the Election Commission don’t see a possibility of the federal parliament bringing a new Act, as there is not enough time to do so. It takes more than a month to endorse a bill in the federal parliament if due process is followed. Another option left with the government is to issue an ordinance.

Leaders from the CPN (Unified Socialist) also say holding elections in May doesn’t look possible, which means the tenure of local governments must be extended.

“I am personally for timely elections but I don’t see it happening,” Jagannath Khatiwada, the party’s spokesperson, told the Post. “I believe the ruling alliance will make its position clear after holding discussions.”

A senior leader from the CPN (Unified Socialist) said as they are busy forming and expanding committees, they are also for postponing the poll date.

“I don’t think any party wants elections in May because they are dealing with their internal issues as they have concluded their general conventions only recently and some of them are planning to hold their conventions soon,” said the leader on the condition of anonymity.

The CPN-UML held its national congress on November 26.

Rastriya Prajatantra Party held its convention on December 1.

The Nepali Congress conducted its general convention from December 10-12. Vote counting for 121 Central Working Committee members is still underway. The Maoist Centre is holding its national conference starting Sunday.

Constitutional experts say elections must be held on time to give momentum to the political process. The government should start focusing on elections, not just for local but provincial and federal also.

Bipin Adhikari, a professor and former dean at Kathmandu University School of Law, said elections will give a new direction to the country as there is a political stalemate—the Parliament has been rendered dysfunctional and the government is hobbling.

“The coalition government has failed to perform. Therefore, the Deuba government should start preparing for polls. It should start with the local polls,” Adhikari told the Post. “As the term of the existing House of Representatives has entered its fifth year, the government can announce dates to elect a new one.”

The elections for the House of Representatives and seven provinces were held in November-December 2017.

The first meeting of the House of Representatives was held on March 5, 2018.

The second and third phases of local elections were held on June 28 and September 18. Officials say the terms of those representatives who were elected from the second and third phases are counted as per those elected during the first phase.

Former election commissioners who oversaw the 2017 elections say there is no alternative to having new elected local representatives by May 20, 2022.

Ayodhee Prasad Yadav, former chief election commissioner, said the government must conduct local elections by the first week of May.

“The existing law doesn’t allow extending the terms of local governments,” Yadav told the Post. “If the government doesn’t want local elections in May, it should put a new law in place to execute Article 225 of the constitution which envisions extending their terms by a maximum of six months.”