A question of trust

In the run-up to polls,there is agreement between SC,EC and the four big parties. But will they uphold the democratic principle?

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Published: September 2, 2013 3:13:18 am

In the run-up to polls,there is agreement between SC,EC and the four big parties. But will they uphold the democratic principle?

Chief Election Commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety refused to act when Prachanda announced that his Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) would deploy 1,000 Young Communist League activists in each booth during the polls for the Constituent Assembly. Taking advantage of the election commission’s silence,Prachanda launched a “production unit” — a brigade of party youths supposedly meant to engage in production activities — that has invited protests from other political parties. So far,the EC has imposed the code of conduct just once by stopping the former king,Gyanendra,patron of the Himani Trust,from distributing relief material to flood victims of far-western Nepal more than a month ago.

The EC has its posts packed with nominees of the four major parties,which not only control the electoral government headed by Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi but also exercise enough influence over the EC. Regmi’s refusal to take cognisance of the demand from outside the four parties,including from the Bar and former chief justices,that he should quit as CJ,continues to trigger fears that the judiciary’s independence is compromised.

The hearing on the petition challenging Regmi’s appointment as the executive head was postponed yet again on August 29. The Supreme Court registrar’s office justified the postponement saying it happened because of the absence of three judges listed in the case. Was the absence deliberate? Or does that mean the SC acts in Regmi’s shadow? There are fears that both the EC and apex judiciary act in tandem as per the four parties’ wishes. They also feel that at least the US and India will endorse any kind of action in the name of facilitating elections in November.

The BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad visited Kathmandu on the invitation of the Nepal-Bharat Sahayog Manch,and asserted that no matter who came to power in India,its Nepal policy will remain unchanged: “India wants election as scheduled in Nepal,and while it is for the Nepalese actors to decide what kind of constitution and federalism… we are ready to facilitate in the process if approached.” Prasad’s visit was meaningful. Manmohan Singh’s government continued to endorse the Vajpayee government’s Nepal policy,and most parties outside the four-party fold in Nepal blame India for adopting a contradictory stand on Maoists at home and in the neighbourhood.

But the issue that Prasad skipped was why it was necessary to have a sitting chief justice as executive head in Nepal,something India and all major democracies are opposed to in principle and practice. This meeting of minds between the SC,EC and the four big parties and the international endorsement appear to matter a lot. But will it endorse the principles of democracy? No serious debate has taken place in Nepal.

US Ambassador Peter W. Bodde who has been actively lobbying for polls on time has of late been telling the EC that elections should be “fair”. Does this fairness include a situation with a level playing field,where four parties don’t enjoy favours from state organs? External donors have pumped in a huge amount of money for “electoral observation teams”,most of them affiliated to one of the four parties. And yet,the absence of enthusiasm among voters,ridiculing of big leaders for their failure and “corruption”,a series of assaults on these leaders,including Prachanda,by their own supporters say a lot about the prevailing atmosphere. The UCPN-M leadership is under pressure to make public an internal probe report submitted to the party more than a year ago into “inside corruption” and to deny tickets to those found guilty.

The job of other party leaders is not easy either. Selecting candidates when aspirations run so high among party leaders,appears as challenging for the top leaders who have so far overruled most decisions of their respective party machineries. While they have been able to avoid direct interaction with the people,they may not be able to skip accountability when the candidate selection process actually begins. And they have to face the angry and frustrated electorate.


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