Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Poll Pragmatism

After months of creeping ambivalence, Maila Baje is now growing cautiously confident about the municipal polls being held as scheduled in February.
This optimism doesn't stem exclusively from King Gyanendra's unwavering determination to hold the elections at any cost. Nor does it flow from any firm belief that the Maoists have privately assured the palace they wouldn't actively sabotage the exercise.
The intrinsic beauty of the sovereign people finally taking charge of their affairs after seven long years of limbo, while noble in itself, isn't what has swayed Maila Baje. It's pure pragmatism expected from the political class.
Regardless of what Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala or UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal may be hollering in public, local politicians of all political stripes know what they stand to lose from a boycott. The power, privileges and patronage associated with local politics provide an addiction only practitioners can perceive.
The opposition alliance's call to boycott the royal regime's polls is likely to receive a less enthusiastic hearing at the local level because of one overriding reason. A large section of the village, municipal and district leaders of the 1990-2002 period started their careers as panchas.
Party ideology may not be that appealing to those who have reaped the fruits of flexibility. (And, of course, more than a few recall how the drafters of the present constitution simply forgot to enshrine local bodies in a separate article, much less its own section.)
To bolster its credentials, King Gyanendra's government might be willing to host the best of international observers. With the major opposition parties sitting on the sidelines, the government wouldn't have to pull a single string to ensure the dominance of the parties led by Ministers Badri Prasad Mandal, Keshar Bahadur Bista, Narayan Singh Pun and the more malleable adherents of Surya Bahadur Thapa and Pashupati Sumshere Rana.
That's where the pragmatism of Koirala and Nepal could blossom. These local satraps, more than the CDOs and Anchal Prashasaks, would frame the environment for the parliamentary elections the monarch has promised in 2007, a year before what he had originally pledged.
Even if the major parties officially stick to their decision to boycott the polls, Maila Baje believes they will allow supporters to stand as independents or as members of other parties.
The alternative – going head-on against the monarch on the streets – still hovers over the nation. Considering the tepidity the political opposition has shown in the last three years, that choice is more than likely to concede to electoral expediency.