-  Sunday 24 June 2018

Terai turmoil may delay Nepal polls

 -  Economic Times

Feb 18 2008 - The uncertainty surrounding Nepalese Constituent Assembly elections continues with prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala refusing to meet one of the key demands put forward by Madhesi leaders for a separate province in the Terai region.

Amid fears that the elections — scheduled to be held on April 10 — could be postponed again, Mr Koirala, after two rounds of discussions with the Madhesi leaders, has announced that he would not accept the demand for a Madhesi province, one of the six demands put forward by the Madhesi leaders.

Mr Koirala said this would affect Nepal’s sovereignty and integrity. Madhesi leaders have said they would continue their general strike until their six-point demands are met. In this scenario, it would be difficult for the government to hold elections.

At the same time, Nepal watchers say that a postponement of poll is also likely to suit certain sections of the political dispensation. The Maoists would be satisfied with the continuation of the current political arrangement and could even use the Madhesi issue to push for a postponement of the elections.

Nepal experts say Maoists fear that they could get marginalised in the elections and their agenda subverted by other parties, particularly the Terai regional parties. They are currently deemed to be unpopular with the people, and of the 83 seats that they acquired in the Nepali Parliament they might not be able to retain even half, political watchers there say.

The Maoists have also not completely integrated into the mainstream and continue to foster a militia of new recruits.
“The elections depend on the Terai situation. In the Terai region political parties have to some extent lost their base to the Madhesi regional parties,” said Paul Soren, junior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. Madhesis have long been marginalised in Nepal and have had no political voice.

A section of the Nepali Congress, which has traditionally been strong in Terai, is also against elections being held. They are not sure about how they would fare in the elections in other areas. And a small, almost negligible, section within the CPN (ULM) also wants the polls to be postponed.

However, the concerned parties are wary of coming out in the open as people want elections. The government is also under pressure from the international community to hold elections on time. India sees the Constituent Assembly elections as a fundamental next step, and feels that the democratic process will lose legitimacy if it is postponed again. New Delhi has been urging Kathmandu to resolve the Madhesi issue through dialogue.

Political calculations aside, Nepal watchers point out that the Koirala government would find it increasingly difficult to hold elections with one-third of the country agitating. “There is a real problem quite apart from whatever might be political calculation.

From the point of view of the administration, how do you hold an elections with one third of the country in revolt. It’s not just political compulsion,” said professor P R Chari, research professor at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

He added: “I’m convinced you can’t hold elections (if the Madhesi issue is not resolved). It is physically impossible, elections require peaceful conditions.” But another postponement would also affect the credibility of the political parties in the eyes of the people of Nepal, and arrest Nepal’s march towards full democracy.

Source : Economic Times
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