By P. Kharel
Of all the people, Kamal Thapa, the deputy prime minister looking after Local Development Ministry, is going saying that the forthcoming local elections were being held for the first time “in 20 years”. It is actually the second time in two decades. Remember the February 2006 municipality elections? Kamal Thapa was the home minister who exhorted voters to cast their ballots without fear.
DUBIOUS DENIAL: Facts are facts, be they sweet, bitter or a nightmare to the beholder. Discounting or denying that local polls were not held in 2006 is dishonesty. True, they were held under intense intimidation and physical threats to voters and candidates. Many of the present day historians, political analysts and leaders on various occasions do not leave an occasion to mention the country’s first municipality elections in Kathmandu back during the dying days of the Rana rule in the 1940s. But they shy away from mentioning the partial polls held 11 years ago.
Having already tasted the power and privilege of the metropolitan city’s chief, Keshav Sthapit at first threw his hat in the ring to don the cap of the Kathmandu municipality’s chief. But he subsequently chickened out with any convincing explanation. Personal safety, under intense pressure from the intimidating forces, predictably took precedence over the lure of a powerful post and the pelf that came along with.
About 20 per cent of the total eligible voters went to the polling booth under belligerent, taunting eyes or hooligans posted at various points near polling booths by the larger political parties. I was among the ones exercising my right and defy the diktat or political fatwa that extremist elements were trying to impose.
The turnout was expectedly smaller than during the earlier times. So vitiated the conditions were that elections could not be held for the next 11 years. Threats were the single most important factor for the country not to have full-fledged local elections for two decades. That is precisely why Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his cabinet ministers have been, since months, trying to assure people that elections will be held this, “come what may”.
Today, Thapa is not only the leader of the unified Rastriya Prajatantra Party but has also been elevated as the first deputy premier looking after Local Development in Dahal’s council of ministers. Times change; so do circumstances. If Thapa, as the home minister in 2005-6, was in hot pursuit of “terrorists” then, he now is next to the seat of Prime Minister Dahal.
In a country where some people go out of the way to accord significance to even a small item in history, the 2006 municipality event is absurdly sought to be swept under the carpet of a deafening silence. In fact, most teenagers today might not be aware at all of the event that took place under such menacing circumstances unleashed by the seven parties that claim to have brought about the loktantra they have defined, interpreted and justified as having been “a historic landmark”.
In 2006, the then chief election commissioner Keshavraj Rajbhandari had announced that preparations were already being made for holding the parliamentary elections by 2007. Sher Bahadur Deuba was the culprit who recommended the House dissolution and recommended fresh elections, only to declare inability to hold the elections on account of the deteriorated law and order he, as prime minister, was supposed to ensure.
TURNOUT TALES: It is true that the turnout in the last municipality polls was low but not unprecedented in trouble spots. At a time when the Maoists were declared terrorists for the previous ten years, the 2006 polls remain historically a very interesting event. Low turnout elsewhere, too, is not unknown.
In India, war-ridden Jammu & Kashmir has recorded very low turnouts since nearly three decades. Even when 15 per cent of eligible voters turn out to cast their ballots, the exercise is hailed as a remarkable achievement. In 2004, Kashmir recorded 16 per cent voters’ turnout as against 11.4 per cent in Srinagar. In 1996, Kuwait recorded 22.9 per cent turnout, which was hailed as a major achievement not only by the Kuwaiti regime but also by its Western allies whose eyes were set on its oil and the revenue thus generated.
In Nepal’s much-hyped first general elections in 1959, less than 40 per cent of the eligible voters cast their franchise; and the Nepali Congress obtained less than two-thirds of the actual votes cast but obtained two-thirds seats in parliament.
The denial of the last local polls is, therefore, as ridiculous as Deputy Prime Minister Bimalendra Nidhi refusing to attend cabinet meetings but continuing to hold the home ministerial portfolio. If his prime minister says Thapa is senior, so it is. Nidhi wants to eat the cake and have it too. But then there are many others whose first priorities are power by any means, money through whatever methods available and impunity through power cartelling in one way or the other.