Modern Nepal was founded in 1768 BS. A highly centralized government had remained a constant feature of the state of Nepal since the founding of the modern state.

A constitution of federal republic promulgated in 2072 marks a departure from the old system of centralized governance towards federalism. The country has been divided into seven provincial units under the current constitution. At the same time, the country has 753 constitutional local authorities. These local authorities, according to the constitution, are autonomous. These local bodies derive their authority from the constitution itself. The institutions of republicanism, federalism and local self-government are incorporated into the constitution to ensure progressive and participatory democracy at all levels.

Before the founding of a centralized Nepal, the common people lived in patches and pockets and on the ridges of the harsh and rugged Himalayan land. People lived in the valleys carved by the mighty ridges and stormy water flows of the gigantic Himalayas.

The cliffs, ridges and gorges of the Himalayas had created the conditions for a kind of localized communal life for many local level units.

Then there are other larger units also called principalities or kingdoms. Kings ruled over their kingdom with the help of

their appointed representatives and local leaders. But when modern Nepal was founded, the people had to face innumerable difficulties whenever a highly centralized state authority came to them in place of their local rulers.

Grassroots people believe that the allocated money is not used for development work and has been diverted for other purposes with the consent of political party leaders. Thus, local authorities appear as new hotbeds of a vicious circle of corruption.

The authoritarian power of the state was felt by the local people when they realized that they had to depend on the authority of the very new state to prove their existence.

Subsequently, under the constitution of 2046 which came into force after the restoration of democracy, a decentralization law was passed by parliament and nearly 4000 local government units were formed.

In these units, people voted to choose their representatives on a party basis. Local governments had administrative power delegated by the central government under the

decentralization scheme. The center had the right to dissolve local governments as it deemed necessary. Historically, local governments known as Panchali had also existed during the Malla and Lichchavi periods.

The 2072 constitution provides for 753 self-governing local authorities. The constitution defines the power and duties of local governments.

On the whole, they do not have to depend on the central government for access to resources and authority to govern. Parliament allocates a budget each year for the operation of local governments.

The constitution envisioned local government as community government, for the community by the community.

However, the community given by the constitution does not consist of families or caste, or ethnic groups. His conception of the community is that of a territorial unit composed of individuals having the right to choose their representatives by their single vote.

The constitution expects a non-partisan local government dedicated to the task of providing various services including education and health care, ensuring local development, creating jobs, and safeguarding natural resources and the environment.

Ironically, the first local government election was held on a partisan basis and now the election commission is preparing to hold the 2nd partisan local election on the 29th Baisakh of the year 2079.

Certain questions arise in the face of these events. How is all this going? What does it mean to legalize the election of a partisan local government?

A civil society movement is emerging against partisan elections at the local level. But defending and advocating for independent candidates is not enough to empower people and strengthen democracy at the local level.

To understand the complexities, we must first pay attention to the code of conduct issued by the electoral commission for local elections.

The Election Commission prohibits political parties from campaigning with party flags while it allows voters to vote on party symbols on the ballot.

This is contradictory in itself and the roots of this contradiction lie in the existing laws. Meanwhile, people are not barred from running for office as independent candidates. But there are five positions to be elected in each local unit.

Independents cannot form a panel or group with the same symbol to contest elections in any unit. The electoral commission will assign a different symbol to each independent candidate.

On the one hand, the symbol of a party keeps the five proposed party candidates in unity or together in a group while the five independent members of a panel in any local unit are divided by five different symbols . Thus, independent candidates are placed at a disadvantage or weaker position.

People realize that their votes and their right to choose their representatives will have no value since their representatives would be chosen and elected by the political parties.

People feel helpless and disoriented and a kind of chaos hangs over the confusion on the ground. People find it difficult to understand who and what program they are going to vote for.

People also talk about this gathabandhan or maha gathabandhan for local elections as a prelude to non-partisan local elections.

What went wrong?

The parliament passed laws for political parties and the law stipulated that political parties will only have their organizational units up to the provincial level.

The law does not mention or recognize the existence of a political party organization at the local level for local elections.

However, electoral laws passed by the electoral commission allowed political parties to select party candidates for election. This is obviously a violation of the constitution and goes against basic democracy.

However, the political parties remain silent on the faulty electoral laws drawn up by the electoral commission. It can be inferred that political parties and electoral commissions are both responsible for the current erroneous situation.

It is now becoming clear that the centralizing character of the state of Nepal still exists. Currently, political parties operate extra-constitutionally as a centralizing machine against the letter and spirit of the constitution.

The organization of elections at the local level on the basis of a party or an alliance of parties is a violation of the right of the people to choose their representatives in a free and fair manner.

Judging by the number of votes, a candidate backed by the power of a quadripartite alliance will be too heavy for the other candidates, including the independents. The essential objective of the local election is undermined. This is a great manipulation of democracy.

Manipulation against democracy:

The five parties in government have not taken a step to correct the legal loopholes. Instead, they constantly strive to consolidate the electoral alliance to take over local authorities and influence provincial and federal elections.

The ballot is also designed in such a way that an overwhelming population will be unable to remember and find the symbols of the candidates on the ballot if they do not favor party members as their representatives.

Its design makes it easier for people to vote on party symbols rather than searching for the symbol of the independent candidate of their choice.

To ensure strong local democracy, the right measure would have been to ask the electoral commission to rectify the laws and issue an ordinance, if necessary, for a non-partisan local election, and to make the ballot and its procedure simple and understandable.

But the parties in government have refrained from taking the right measures. Instead, their leaders work day and night to strengthen electoral alliances to capture local unities against democracy. The reasons are both political and financial.

The current constitution has made local self-government very powerful in terms of access to resources and authority.

Local units are placed under the central administration and not under the provinces in which they are located. This goes against federalism and was done to weaken provincial governments.

The main political parties were against strong provincial units when the constitution was drafted, as this would have been a serious challenge to the centralizing tendencies and practices of the state.

The other reason behind making the maha gathabandhan, is the alliance of the pol. The parties in government could be the opportunity to strengthen political control over local units and encourage collusion with corruption at the local level.

Rather it is a source of grassroots conflict that politicizes everything under heaven at local level unity and polarization on the basis of political parties kills the community spirit that the constitution plans to reawaken at community level for peace and the development of everything.

The general perception is that local governments have become new hotbeds of corruption. The center has been unable to control or curb corruption at the local level. In effect, local bodies are supposed to function as new conduits to siphon off money allocated for development work elsewhere for other purposes.

Grassroots people believe that the allocated money is not used for development work and has been diverted for other purposes with the consent of political party leaders. Thus, local authorities appear as new hotbeds of a vicious circle of corruption.

Mahagathbandhan’s policy is a step towards consolidating corruption on the basis of bhagbanda. This will make good governance a distant daydream and could be the start of the criminalization of politics at the local level.

A new debate for independent candidates:

As the day of the 2nd local elections draws closer, a great debate is emerging on how to empower local bodies and local people in a real sense.

A civil society movement is emerging against partisan elections at the local level. But defending and advocating for independent candidates is not enough to empower people and strengthen democracy at the local level.

The two goals of empowering people and strengthening local democracy are interdependent and will make progress towards achieving both goals if local elections are made non-partisan and electoral laws are reformed simultaneously.

The reform of the electoral laws of local authorities is necessary so that the electoral procedure is made simple and understandable for all.

Local authorities are primarily intended for development and democracy. They are not policy-making bodies.

Thus, their election on a partisan basis makes no sense to grassroots people. Rather it is a source of grassroots conflict that politicizes everything under heaven at local level unity and polarization on the basis of political parties kills the community spirit that the constitution plans to reawaken at community level for peace and the development of everything.

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