Monday, March 27, 2017

Power, Foreign Policy And Diplomacy

Yuba Nath Lamsal
Big powers always try to make sure that their presence and influence in the neighbourhood and international arena remain strong and their interests are better served. Anything done for this purpose by any country is called power projection. Power projection is a part of international politics and the act of power projection can be pursued in both hard and soft forms. Hard power is military machine whereas soft power comes out of other means of persuasion to make one's presence felt; influence maintained and its national interest served.
Three Cs
In the game of international power politics, the letter 'C' has a special meaning and significance. Big powers rely on and apply three 'Cs' for power projection, and have their interest served abroad or in other countries. The three 'Cs' mainly refer to the words: 'convince, confuse and confront'.
The first two are mainly to do with the use of soft power while the third one refers to the use of hard power. Countries apply soft powers and persuasive methods to bring others into their fold through the method of convincing.  In the process of convincing diplomacy and media machine come handy. If this approach does not work, the second 'C' is applied, which means to confuse the adversaries. It is said that confused enemy is not harmful although it may not be helpful as well. If one is able to confuse the adversaries, it is as good as convincing them. In the process of confusing the enemies, diplomatic acumen and media mobilisation are considered the best tools. It is through these tools, powers accomplish their mission in the international arena without using military force.
When both persuasive methods fail, the other 'C' or the confrontational tool is applied to accomplish the mission. Use of soft power is often persuasive but not always. Soft power also has both persuasive and coercive methods. The coercive method is something that seeks to weaken the enemy through the means other than war. Some coercive methods include economic sanctions and propaganda machines.
The confrontational method is the use of hard power or military. In most cases, the confrontational methods are often avoided because it involves human, financial and other costs. Hard power is applied only when diplomacy and persuasive approaches fail. In the military war, none wins, but all involved in war become the losers. Ordinary and innocent people will be the ones who suffer more from the war than the soldiers. History is a witness that more innocent citizens have been killed in wars than the soldiers involved in the warfare. The military war and the use of hard power is something that must be avoided as far as possible and practicable.
Diplomacy is the best option which can achieve a win-win solution for all sides involved in the conflict. In diplomacy, no side loses but both win. Moreover, when disputes are settled through the use of diplomacy or negotiations, human casualties and loss of collateral damages are prevented. Diplomacy saves civilisations from being ruined. Thus, diplomacy must be given a chance in all kinds of conflicts in the international issues and disputes. The lasting and sustainable solution and peace can be achieved only through diplomacy. Solution through the use of hard power or war is just temporary and conflict may erupt again. Even when war ends, diplomacy will be required to settle and manage the post-war solution. There is, thus, no alternative to diplomacy if we are to seek a sustainable solution to any conflict in the international arena. 
It is, perhaps, this reason why former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill defined diplomacy as a war fought without fatal weapons. According to him, there is only victory and nothing else in diplomacy. But in the military war, the chances of victory and defeat are equal. Similarly, Sun Tzu, a famous military strategist of ancient China, has said in his widely read book 'The Art Of War' that diplomacy is the supreme art of war to subdue the enemy without fighting. According to American professor Isaac Goldberg, diplomacy is an art of doing or saying even the 'nastiest things in the nicest manner'.
The practice of diplomacy is not a new phenomenon but has a long history. History of diplomacy is longer in South Asia. Prior to the Mahabharat war between the Kauravas and Pandavas, diplomacy was used to prevent the war. Lord Shree Krishna went to the palace of Dhritarastra or Kauravas as a peace envoy of the Pandavas seeking to prevent the possible war through the use of diplomacy.
In Europe, history of diplomacy goes back to the renaissance era. Greece and Byzantine were powerful empires of that time which occasionally used diplomacy to deal with other powers in Asia and Europe in the ancient time. The Treaty of Westphalia, which was signed in 1648 seeking an end to the long-running war in Europe, was the first documented history of diplomatic practice in Europe. However, the Congress of Vienna convened from November, 1814 to June, 1815 was the first formal and practical initiative in modern diplomacy. The Congress of Vienna not only established a new balance of power in Europe, but also set rules, norms and standard of diplomacy, including definition of ambassadors, ambassadors extra ordinary and plenipotentiary and charge de affairs. The Vienna Convention is the basis of modern diplomacy, which clearly defined the framework of diplomatic relations between the countries and also the roles, rights, duties, privileges and amenities of diplomatic missions and diplomats. 
Now diplomacy has a wider role and a bigger responsibility for peace and just world order. Diplomacy plays a key role in preventing wars and establishing peace, but its scope extends quite more than that. Apart from maintaining and institutionalising peace and creating a just world order, the scope of modern diplomacy even covers some very pertinent issues that have direct bearing on human survival like democracy, development, human rights, environmental, climate issues, economic and trade issues, labour and migration and alike. In the modern diplomacy, a diplomat has to play multiple roles and has to be well versed in wide-ranging issues. Thus, a diplomat has to be a generalist having general knowledge of almost everything. Diplomacy is more important for smaller and weaker countries like Nepal as they may not have other factors to influence.
As far as Nepal is concerned, it does not have hard power and other resources to influence the international community. Diplomacy and the use of soft power are the only means for Nepal to build its positive image abroad and serve its interest better in the international arena. Now Panchaseela or the Five Principles of Co-existence are the fundamental basis of international relations and cooperation among countries. Panchaseelas are the teachings of Lord Buddha, who was born in Nepal, and this is Nepal's important soft power.
Diplomacy is a tool to implement the foreign policy while the foreign policy is the extension of domestic policy. The objective of foreign policy or diplomacy is to serve the national interest abroad. Nepal's national interests have been clearly defined by the Constitution of Nepal in its Article 5, which includes protection of Nepal's independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality, people’s rights, border security and economic prosperity. Similarly, Nepal’s foreign policy guidelines are its faith in the United Nations Charter and principle of non-alignment. Based on these clear principles and guidelines, Nepal's foreign policy and diplomacy are conducted.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Let Us Trust The People

Yuba Nath Lamsal
It seems as though a new kind of political polarisation is in the offing. This is mainly after the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) withdrew its support to the government and decided to launch fresh protests demanding that its concerns and agenda be addressed through constitution amendment.  Going one step forward, the UDMF declared that it would not participate in the local election scheduled for May 14. Instead, it says it would try to foil it if the election were held without addressing their demands.
Amendment bill
The government has already registered the constitution amendment bill in the parliament. The bill is now property of the Legislature-Parliament, to which the UDMF is also a part. The onus now lies on the parliament in general and the political parties in particular to decide on the bill— whether to pass in its original and modified form or reject it. As the Madhesi Front is a key stakeholder, it, too, is required to play a constructive and cooperative role in getting the bill adopted by the parliament instead of just bargaining with the ruling parties. The constitutional provision requires a two-thirds majority to endorse the constitution amendment bill, which the ruling parties do not have. Support from the opposition parties especially the CPN-UML is crucial to pass the bill. The leaders of the Madhesi Front, too, know it well, but they are only blaming the government for not pushing for the passage of the amendment bill.
The decision of the Madhesi Front to withdraw their support to the government has only complicated the situation as if it was not settled in time amicably and may polarise the political parties for and against the local election. The CPN-UML and some fringe parties have declared in public that they in no way will let the constitution amendment bill pass. Similarly, one of the constituents of the ruling coalition, too, is not in favour of passing the amendment bill in its present form.  Even the Madhesi Front wants modification in the bill. This clearly shows that the bill may not be passed if it was put for voting in its present form. Thus, the Madhesi Front has to either take initiative to convince the UML and other parties to support the bill or go to the local poll putting aside the constitution amendment bill.
Now date of the local election has already been announced. The Election Commission is making preparations on war footing to hold the election on the scheduled date in a free, fair and impartial manner. It is also the duty of all the political parties and general people to cooperate with the government and the Election Commission in holding the local election successfully and peacefully.
Election is the lifeblood of democracy.  Local bodies are democratic institutions at the grassroots level. They are foundation of democracy. Local election is a must to let the people choose their representatives at the local level. Again the local bodies do not have elected representatives almost for 15 years for varied reasons. The declaration of the local election has indeed instilled a new and fresh enthusiasm and optimism among the people. This is because the people will enjoy and exercise their democratic right to choose their representative for running the local government.
However, the Madhesi Front is opposing the local election putting forth a demand that the constitution should be amended before holding any election. But given the constitutional provision, equation in the parliament and position of the parties on the amendment of the constitution, it is less likely that the constitution amendment bill would be passed in the parliament. In such a situation, all should make a compromise in order to create atmosphere conducive for the election. The government and the ruling parties have hinted that they are prepared to push for the constitution amendment except the issue on re-delineation of the federal provinces due to constitutional provision. They have floated the idea of constituting a high-level commission with the mandate to redraw the boundary of the provinces. This seems to be a common ground for all the forces and groups to come together and join the local election. The redrawing of the provincial boundaries and local election may go simultaneously. Once the provincial boundaries are finalised, election for provincial legislature will be held, which will pave the ground for holding the all three levels of election by January 2018.
In a democracy, the decision of majority must be respected while voice of minority, too, has to be accommodated as far as possible. But the political and electoral processes should by no means be obstructed under any pretext. People are the ultimate arbiter and they should be allowed to decide who is right and who is wrong. In a democratic system of governance, different ideologies and interest groups compete. In the course of competition, conflicts may occur among the competing forces, but such conflicts should not be allowed to turn into confrontation. Obstinacy only leads to confrontation that may land the conflicting parties into the point of no return. Flexibility and compromise are the best way to resolve conflict and establish an amicable situation for a healthy political competition.
Nepal has already suffered a lot due to conflict and prolonged transition. We witnessed a decade-long armed conflict from 1996 to 2006 in which almost 17,000 people were killed and several others injured and disabled. Development activities came to a virtual standstill due to the conflict. However, it has been more than a decade since the peace process started back in 2006. But sustainable peace has so far not been established in the country. The promulgation of the new constitution in 2015 had been expected to end the transition and herald a new era of peace and prosperity. However, the conflict was not resolved completely as a section of people have expressed their disgruntlement and reservation about the certain provisions of the new constitution.
 The Madhes-based parties launched street protests against the constitution and even blocked the Nepal-India border for five months. The blockade ended after the political parties then agreed to find an amicable way out on the demands raised by the Madhesi groups through the constitution amendment. The ruling parties have lived up to their promise and registered the constitution amendment bill in the parliament, but they alone cannot guarantee the passage of the bill. Now all the political parties are expected to sit together and find the best way to resolve this issue. Since the constitution amendment bill is the property of the parliament, the parliament has to give its decision on the bill at the earliest. The Legislature-Parliament is the sovereign body of the people's elected representatives, and its decision must be honoured by all in whatever form it is.
In a democracy, we all have the right to dissent, but the decision of majority must be honoured. If we do not honour the majority’s decision, the essence of democracy will no longer exist. Election is the best way to put forth the agenda and ideas among the people. Thus, let us trust the people and let us give the final arbiters decide the issue through their ballots.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Diplomacy As A Public Domain

Yuba Nath Lamsal
Many of us tend to believe that foreign policy is primarily an elitist domain.  This is a general belief not only in Nepal but also in the world as a whole. Foreign policy is the domain of the government, and the ordinary people are not directly involved in foreign policy formulation and its execution. But in the present and modern world wherein democracy has become a common global lingua franca, foreign policy, too, is becoming the subject of public scrutiny.

Foreign policy is said to be the extension of domestic policy. Foreign policy formulation and execution is, therefore, not an independent entity, but a part of overall governance. Since a democratic government consists of elected representatives, the people, too, have an indirect participation in foreign policy formulation and execution. The foreign ministry appears to be the core agency in executing foreign policy, but it is the legislative and executive which are responsible for foreign policy formulation.

Political tool

Our parliament has international relations and a labour committee to look into the issues concerning foreign policy and international relations. The parliament a few years ago prepared a document specifying Nepal's national interest, foreign policy priorities and issues concerning the guidelines for the conduct of Nepal’s foreign policy. However, this document seems to be still gathering dust somewhere in the shelves of the parliament building.
The fundamental basis of foreign policy of any country is, beyond any shade of doubt, national interest. Similarly, foreign policy is also the extension of domestic policy. Thus, foreign policy is just a political tool to pursue and protect the national interest defined by the state. While foreign policy is a tool to protect its national interest abroad, diplomacy is a tactical procedure to ensure that the foreign policy goals are achieved.
The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic Nepal has clearly defined Nepal's national interests. The Article 5 of the Constitution states: "Safeguarding of freedom, sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality, independence, and dignity of Nepal, the rights of the Nepalese people, border security, economic wellbeing and prosperity shall be the basic elements of the national interest of Nepal". Thus, our foreign policy seeks to and will be guided to protect and promote these elements of national interests.
Similarly, the Article 51 (M) under the State Policies specifies the policies relating to international relations as being directed to conducting an independent foreign policy based on the Charter of the United Nations, non-alignment, principles of Panchsheel ( five principles of peaceful co-existence), international law and the norms of world peace, taking into consideration overall interest of the nation, while remaining active in safeguarding Nepal’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and national interest. It also states that review of treaties concluded in the past, and concluding new treaties and agreements based on equality and national interest have been the other component of the state policy. 
According to thinkers and philosophers like Niccolo Machiavelli and Kautilya, foreign policy is international power politics whereas diplomacy is an  art of war to be fought without weapons but with words. It, therefore, requires astute diplomacy and skilled diplomats to successfully implement foreign policy and achieve the goals set forth. The foreign ministry is the core institution to implement foreign policy and handle diplomacy with a number of countries and international as well as regional organisations sometimes directly and most of the time through Nepal's missions stationed in different countries abroad.
The foreign ministry is headed by a politician or a foreign minister, who is representative of the people. Since the ministry is handled by people's representative, it, in principle, means that the people have a say in and control over the foreign policy handling and conducting diplomacy. However, the minister only provides policy guidelines, but it is the bureaucrats in the ministry and diplomats, including both careerists as well as political appointees, who handle the foreign policy and diplomacy both at home and abroad. This is the reason why the foreign policy and its handling are often dubbed as an elitist vocation. It is not necessarily implied that the foreign policy should be kept away from the public domain. It is also the parliament that designs or approves the policy of the government including the foreign policy, which is a self-evident of the control and a say of the people's representatives in the foreign policy formulation.

In a democracy, transparency and accountability are the key features that make the government or those who are in the helms of affairs, including the ones handling the foreign policy and conducting diplomacy responsible to the people. The practice of parliamentary hearing for ambassadors is meant to make the diplomats responsible to the people-elected institution and to the people. It is this reason why the Constitution of Nepal has incorporated the provision of parliamentary hearing for the key political appointees, including the ambassadors. This is how the people's control over the conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy is maintained. It is deemed necessary because the foreign policy is a part of the governance and political process, and there must be an active and meaningful participation of the people in the debate, discourse and decision-making process more particularly in the formulation and conduct of the foreign policy.

According to former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, diplomacy is the war without fatal weapons in which there is only victory. In the similar vein, Sun Tzu, a famous war strategist in ancient China, says diplomacy is the supreme art of war to subdue the enemy without fighting. It is widely said that war begins only when diplomacy fails. War cannot solve the problem, and it is the diplomacy that is required to settle the disputes even after the war. In the military war,   none wins and both sides lose. But in diplomacy, all sides win as disputes and conflicts are managed and resolved in mutually acceptable terms.
Nepal is a small economy with limited resources having little at hand to influence in the international community. Only effective and vibrant diplomacy can protect our national interest abroad and build our positive image in the international community. But foreign policy and diplomacy seem to have drawn a little attention of the politicians and the policy makers, which has made our foreign policy not as effective and strong as it should have been. Diplomacy has multi-layers through which all institutions are mobilised to make diplomacy more vibrant and effective to cope with the newer and more complicated challenges. However, it seems to be glaringly lacking when it comes to practical handling of our foreign policy and diplomacy. The government and its diplomatic missions are primarily responsible for the conduct of diplomacy. However, in the present era of globalisation marked by technological revolution, other tracts or public diplomacy plays equally important role in reaching out to the world and building Nepal's image abroad. Civil society groups, business chambers and professional bodies, too, need to be fully utilised and mobilised in close coordination with the foreign ministry and our missions abroad in order to make our diplomacy effective.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Jung Bahadur's Foreign Policy

Yuba Nath Lamsal
The infamous massacre known as the Kot Parva took place on the night of September 14, 1846, in which most of the senior officials and military commanders were killed on the premises of the royal place of Nepal, giving rise to Jung Bahadur Rana to power. Soon after the Kot massacre, the powerful Queen Laxmi Devi appointed Jung Bahadur as the new prime minister of Nepal. Jung’s rise to power made a big impact on Nepal's political and diplomatic arena. In politics, it started the clan rule of Ranas rendering the Shah kings into mere rubber stamps whereas the Rana Prime Minister became all powerful, which came to an end only in 1951 following a popular uprising. 
Policy shift
Jung's rise to power resulted in a major redefinition of Nepal's foreign policy, more particularly viz-a-viz China and British India. According to Leo Rose, a practical politician like Jung Bahadur was aware of the decline of Chinese power and it was not in a position or willing to challenge the British power in the Himalayan area. The Kot massacre was solely planned and executed by Jung with perhaps full knowledge of Indian Resident (ambassador) in Kathmandu.
 Historian Baburam Acharya says that when king Rajendra, on the night of the Kot massacre, went to the British Embassy probably seeking help for his personal security, the officiating British ambassador Captain Ottley refused to meet the king. Had the British resident not known the plan of Kot massacre, he would not have denied entry to Nepal's head of the state, who was desperately seeking help for his personal safety. The foreign policy Jung Bahadur adopted later is also evident of the British support for the rise of Jung Bahadur to power. Jung Bahadur was indebted to the British and he adopted British-centric foreign policy, which continued throughout the Rana rule.
As a result, Nepal remained in isolation for many years as far as the foreign policy is concerned. Jung Bahadur adopted the policy of appeasing the British India to ensure security to his regime.  At that time, China was not much interested in Nepal's affairs as it was more occupied with its own internal problems. Moreover, Beijing did not want to antagonise the British. China was satisfied as long as its Tibet's border with Nepal was secure. Moreover, China always felt  a threat in Tibet not from British but from Nepal because of previous wars between Tibet and Nepal. China's only interest and intention of that time was to contain Nepal and keep British far from the Himalayas, for which Beijing wanted Nepal to remain a weak buffer between China and British-India so that there might not be any chance of direct confrontation with the British.
Jung Bahadur chose not to confront with the British, but secured their support for the longevity of his rule. Earlier rulers of Nepal used to tilt towards China and seek Chinese support to counter the British, but this tactics yielded little fruit. Bhimsen Thapa had tried this tactics but failed.  Beijing never came to Nepal's defence even when Nepal made repeated pleas for support in the war against the East India Company. Jung Bahadur knew it well and, thus, did not want to make the same mistake again but to reconcile and collaborate with the British even at the expense of its relations with its northern neighbour. Jung Bahadur thought that friendly relationship with the British was necessary to safeguard Nepal's independence. 
According to Leo Rose, the reorientation of Nepalese foreign policy was given additional emphasis with Jung Bahadur's visit to England as the visit strengthened his view that British rule in India was not going to be easily overthrown and that the confrontation with the British would be something like playing with fire. Moreover, for Jung Bahadur, British-India was Nepal's next door neighbour while Beijing is far away power. During that time, British power was rising whereas Beijing's power was declining. As a part of the move to appease the British and keep Beijing out of Nepal's foreign policy radars, Jung Bahadur cancelled the long-held tradition of sending quinquennial mission to Beijing. This was a move taken to get more British support for stabilising Jung Bahadur's power. But, five years later, once Jung Bahadur's power was consolidated, Nepal again revived the tradition of sending quinquennial mission to Beijing, to which British also did not object. This decision was purely to neutralise China from the affairs between Nepal and Tibet as Jung Bahadur again wanted to restore once lucrative Nepal-Tibet trade.
Trade with Tibet and supply of coins were the most profitable and lucrative income for Nepal. The Nepal-Tibet trade discontinued after the 1792 agreement due to which Nepal lost considerable income from trade. Thus, Jung Bahadur decided to revive the trade with Tibet especially the coin supply. Jung Bahadur also saw the possibility of war as Tibet might not agree to revive trade through peaceful means. In such an eventuality, he wanted to keep China away from Nepal-Tibet confrontation. This was one of the principal objectives of reviving the quinquinnial mission. Jung Bahadur also wanted to restore friendly relations with China to pacify growing dissent within the country on his pro-British policy.  Jung Bahadur, therefore, decided to come out of his British centric foreign policy and maintain a balanced relationship with both its neighbours. Jung Bahadur, then, sent a mission headed by Gambhir Singh to Peking in 1852, which was received in Beijing with mere formality, but suffered mistreatment in Tibetan territories while returning. The mission chief and his deputy died of disease on the way, which was viewed by Nepal with suspicion. Nepal took this incident as an excuse to declare war on Tibet.
 Vijaya Kumar Manandhar  is of the view that from the mid-nineteenth century, the pattern of Nepal's relations with China started changing  mainly due to two key factors -- one is its friendlier and cooperative relationship with the British and secondly China's declining power after the Opium War. But Jung Bahadur wanted to make sure that China would not come in Tibet's defence in the Nepal-Tibet war. Jung Bahadur used the tactics of appeasing Beijing for which he offered military support to quell the T'aiping rebellion. But the Chinese emperor refused Nepal's offer saying that China had no tradition of accepting military assistance from other countries.
Jung Bahadur had been thinking of declaring war against Tibet for some time after he consolidated power apparently for two key reasons. One was to revive Nepal's lucrative trade with Tibet, which had discontinued after the 1792 treaty; the other one was to engage his army. Nepalese army had remained idle for a long time after the Anglo-Nepal war.  Jung Bahadur knew well that an idle army might be threat to his regime, and he invaded Tibet to keep his army engaged in war.
Restoration of trade
The Nepal-Tibet war ended with the signing of the Thapathali Treaty on March 24, 1956. The treaty not only restored the traditional trade between Nepal and Tibet but also raised the status of Nepal's diplomatic presence in Tibet. The Article 5 of the Thapathali Treaty states, "Gorkha (Nepal) is permitted to station a Bhardar (envoy) in Tibet instead of a Nayak that had been stationed there previously".
Similarly, Jung Bahadur skillfully kept China away from Nepal-Tibet dispute, which was his major diplomatic success. By restoring close and friendlier relations with China, Jung Bahadur also corrected his overtly British-centric foreign policy and maintained a balance in the relationship with both northern and southern neighbours.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

For Free And Fair Local Election

Yuba Nath Lamsal
With the announcement of the local election, political uncertainty has come to an end.  Given the complications in the national political landscape for varied reasons, uncertainty over early local election had loomed large in the Nepalese political landscape. Now the uncertainty is cleared and unless some foreseeable circumstances take place, the much-waited local election will be held simultaneously throughout the country on May 14, 2017.
There has not been election for the local bodies for almost two decades. The last local election in Nepal had been held in 1997. In the absence of the elected people's representatives, civil servants have been manning and running the local bodies. The local bodies are the foundation of democratic structure and democracy cannot be institutionalised without practicing it in all levels. In such a case, good governance is out of question and the concept of local self-governance has remained only in papers.
Fundamental spirit
Holding parliamentary elections alone does not guarantee the democratic exercise. In the absence of local elections, people's rights to choose their representatives has been denied, which is against the fundamental spirit of democracy. Local election is a must and there should not be any attempt from any quarters to delay or disrupt the rights of people to choose their representatives.
Now election for the local bodies has been announced. The Election Commission is working on war footing to conduct the election in a free, fair, peaceful and credible manner. The Election Commission had earlier sought at least 120 days for the preparation, but the EC got only 82 days for the job of holding the election. Still, the EC is prepared to hold the election within this short available time, and accordingly is making all preparatory works on war a footing.
Periodic elections are the basic prerequisite and tenets of democratic polity. But election for the sake of holding election is not sufficient. The election should be free, fair and impartial through which the people exercise their franchise without any kind of fear, pressure and influence. However, not all elections are democratic and free. Democratic elections must maintain certain universally accepted standards and norms. If these international standards and norms are not met, the entire purpose of holding election will be defeated. Even some authoritarian regimes hold elections, but such elections are only to deceive their own people as well as the international community. These elections are held in such a way that the candidates and parties do not win the election, but they are declared winner. Such elections are engineered, rigged and manipulated in which the outcome is predetermined. The election in Iraq during Saddam Hussein regime can be taken as examples how dictators often hoodwink the international community in the name holding election. In the elections, Saddam Hussein's Baathist Party used to be declared winner with more than 95 per cent votes. This was nothing, but farce in the name of election.
We have a long tradition of holding elections. We have independent and competent Election Commission with the sole responsibility of holding different elections. The Election Commission existed even during the Panchayat era and it conducted several elections during the Panchayat era, but the Panchayat era elections used to be held on individual basis. Multi-party democracy was restored in 1990, and the practice of holding democratic elections started.
Since the multi-party democracy was restored in 1990 three parliamentary elections, two local elections and two Constituent Assembly elections were held on multi-party basis. Until 2008, only the 'first past the post' (FPP) or majoritarian electoral system was in practice in Nepal. Partial proportionate representation (PR) electoral system was introduced in Nepal only after the country entered into republican era.  Now we have mixed electoral system consisting of both FPP and PR systems.
The election for the local bodies is being held first time after the promulgation of the new constitution. This is also the first election to be held in the new structure. The earlier elections were held in the old structures created more than a half century ago. The Constitution has transformed Nepal from a unitary state to the federal one. The country was, accordingly, federated into seven provinces.  As per the provision of the new constitution, a high-level and powerful panel was mandated to redraw the local bodies, which has already submitted its report recommending the government to create 719 local bodies including village councils, municipalities, sub-metropolitan cities and a metropolitan city. But it is not yet finalised as the government is still studying the report as some Madhes-based parties are opposed to the propositions of the report.
The Madhes-based parties are opposed to the local election. They are demanding amendment to the constitution before holding the local election.  Citizens and the political parties definitely have rights to express their reservation, disgruntlement and dissent over political and other issues. The constitution has given them the right to dissent in a peaceful and democratic manner. But attempts to block the constitutional and democratic practice under any pretext may not be justified. Election is a democratic process, which by no means should be blocked and disrupted.
If the political parties have reservation on certain provision of the constitution or on any other political issues, they can put forth clearly with the people, who are the ultimate arbiter of any dispute and issue. If their issues are genuine and justified, people will definitely vote for them and with popular vote they can pursue for the change in the constitution or enact laws to address their concerns and demands. Election is the best opportunity to reach out to the people and get popular support for the cause, policies and programmes of the parties, from which none should refrain.
 In a way, the local election is a part of enforcing and enriching the constitution as well as institutionalising democracy at the grassroots level. In the election, people will elect more than 35,000 representatives, who are expected to man and run the local bodies in an accountable and responsible manner. Election makes the political system representative, accountable and responsible. If there are any issues and disputes on any subjects, they can be resolved in a democratic and constitutional manner, for which all the political parties must act in a responsible manner.
Responsibility of parties
So far as the demands and concerns of the Madhesi parties are concerned, attempts should be made to address them as far as practicable. The ruling parties have already demonstrated their willingness to address the demands of Madhesi parties, for which a bill for the amendment in the constitution has already been tabled in the parliament. Now the opposition CPN-UML and Madhesi parties are expected to exhibit reciprocity and flexibility to create atmosphere conducive for election. It is the responsibility of all to ensure free, fair and peaceful election. What is to be taken into serious note is the fact that in the absence of positive role and cooperation from all stakeholders,  effort of the government and the Election Commission alone will not be sufficient.