If the 2008 Constituent Assembly (CA) election in Nepal was a surprise, the 2013 election and the results are a greater surprise. This time, the voter turnout was more than expected and the electioneering less violent. The last CA election was held in an eerie atmosphere of post Maoist struggle, Royal overthrow, uncertain army, divided political forces and impending renewal of conflict. Even as India and many other countries had written obituaries of the Left movements in their respective countries, Nepal appeared to have had some confidence in the Left. This gave the CPN (Maoists) 229 seats (39 per cent votes) as against 115 (19.13 per cent votes) for the Nepali Congress (NC) and 108 seats (17.97 per cent votes) to CPN-UML. It is obvious that the vote split between the NC and CPN-UML helped the Maoists come to power in 2008, which they messed up totally.
The 2013 CA-II election has produced astounding results. The Nepali Congress has staged a political come back with 196 (105 +91) seats, the CPM-UML has 175 (91+84) seats and the Maoists 80 (26+54) seats. The impressive victory of the Nepali Congress is another element of the surprise much more than the total wash out of the Maoist forces.
Applying the Modified Sainte-Lague Method, which is being used to decide party wise seats, as many as 335 Proportional Representation (PR) seats will be allocated among 31 parties and 26 seats nominated. While all the parties are expected to submit the PR list only Janamukti Party, Samajwadi Janata Party, Nepal Pariwar Dal, Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal and Khambuwan Rastriya Morcha have submitted the names of their PR candidates to the Election Commission (EC) so far. The Nepali Congress has sought time till next week to submit their lists of proportional representation (PR) candidates citing the delay in their talks with the Maoists as a reason.
The UCPN (Maoist) has said it will not submit the list of its PR candidates unless its demands like a high-level panel to probe election irregularities, amendment to interim Constitution, a new political paper and commitment to the 2005, 12- point agenda are considered. The Maoist’s are deliberately delaying the political process.
The Maoist insurgency led by CPN-M began as a trickle in 1996 with armed rebellion in the western hills of the Himalayan Kingdom. The Palace killings (Kot Murder-2) in 2001 put the Monarchy and all political parties in a quandary. To make matters worse, in 2002, King Gyanendra dismissed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and declared himself absolute Monarch. After series of government changes followed by a state of Emergency, he incarcerated all political leaders condemning their failure to reign in the Maoists, promised elections, led the army from upfront against the Maoist rebels and ended up killing more than 13,000 people.
However, in November 2005, nine months Gyanendra’s takeover, a Seven-Party Alliance signed a 12-point Memorandum of Understanding with the Maoists pledging to restore parliamentary democracy through political process. The MoU was signed in India with the support of the then UPA Government, which had sort of outsourced Nepal affairs to the Left parties and the Left leaning JNU ‘scholars’.
During this time various groups in the plains of Nepal called Tarai rallied under different “Madeshi” parties. Ironically, the Maoists as well as the Madeshi parties used their sympathisers in New Delhi more often than relying on their own supports back home.
Finally, on April 10, 2008, Nepal voted for nation’s first-ever Constituent Assembly election and on May 28, Nepal’s Constituent Assembly met for the first time and voted to abolish the monarchy, transforming Nepal into a federal democratic republic. The Maoists had evened the score with the Palace but in their exuberance, began to behave as new monarchs totally disregarding the commitment to the people. The Maoists did not disappoint George Orwell.
For more than a couple of years all was not well in the Maoist camp. The tussle between groups owing allegiance to Prachanda, Baidya and Baburam Bhattarai spilled over to the streets of Kathmandu seriously threatening the peace process and the Constitution drafting. The party’s highest forum was irretrievably split while discussing as many as eleven serious issues such as right to justice, right to property, right to social justice and political objective of the State. All the while the Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, habitually skipped all such meetings.
Due to instability four governments headed the CA in four years each contradicting one another and their own parties as well. The CA became a tool in the hands of self serving power hungry individuals totally divorced from ideology or love for the country. As a result of this politics got badly fragmented giving rise to worst form of identity politics such as Tarai versus Hill, Madeshi versus Newari and much more.
After four wasted years, CA lost people’s faith and also the court’s permission to continue which refused any further extension beyond May 28, 2012. Realising the futility of clinging to power, PM Baburam Bhattarai, called for elections for a new CA. Amidst disagreements, a non-party government with the Chief Justice as PM was formed in March 2013 mandated to hold elections for another CA.
The CA-II result is a signal for democratic forces to unite and work for producing tangible results and not just engage in political semantics and ideological deceit. It is for the Nepali Congress and the CPM- (UML) to sink their differences and bring everyone on board, including the spoil-sport Maoists who have been throwing up tantrums after the drubbing.There is an urgent need to produce a new Constitution, show good governance traits, restore people’s faith in democracy and end cynicism.
Nepal’s tryst with democracy began in 1990 and the polity witnessed many shades of governments. But by far the worst offenders have been the Maoists who not only destroyed institutions but wrecked the economy and seriously compromised the security and non-aligned independence of the country.
Increasing number of prime properties in Nepal are reported to have been pawned to outsiders especially fly by night operators from China who are said to have some element of backing by powerful strategists in Beijing. Incidentally, China reportedly was the first country to pat Nepal on the success of the CA Poll outcome and sure to fast forward its efforts in reaching out to the new dispensation in Singhadurbar to promote trade. The Nepali Congress led government will have to chart a new course and correct the balance of power equations, a task which the NC leaders are fairly good at. With a new set of leaders and younger elements coming up in the party, the NC should avoid the pitfalls they encountered during the days of Girija Koirala versus Deuba days. Senior leaders should opt for Constitution making and consensus building and leave day-to-day governance to the younger elements in all the parties.
The CPM-UML seems to have dented the Maoist base in Tarai but the Madeshi groups have established their influence and won good number of seats. The new government should include sufficient representation from the Tarai and Madeshi parties to assuage the feeling of alienation, real or perceived, to avoid another showdown and possible political, social and economic set back.
The NC and CPM-UML are intently negotiating to form a stable government and are ready to take the Maoists on board as no combination has the magic figure of 401 seats. Divided badly, the Maoists should respect the verdict. Baidya and Prachanda may like to flex their muscles but Baburam Battarai should lend his support to the government and win the trust of the people back.
Interestingly, the NC-CPN UML talks have put many leaders in both parties on high alert. With the likelihood of UML getting the country’s President’s post. The fear of this CA also failing to arrive at a consensus in the Constitution making seems to be at the base of their refusal to occupy the high post. Besides, top post in the party offers greater political manoeuvrability in Nepal politics.
Meanwhile, influential politicians have condemned the move to oust the President and the Vice-President unceremoniously as their terms are set to last “until a Constitution is ready”. “The objectives of these two posts will be fulfilled only after the promulgation of the constitution; if we are sent home without a constitution, it will be a humiliation for us,” the VP Shri Paramananda Jha is reported to have said.
India has to play an important role in defining the future course of events in Kathmandu and New Delhi does not have the luxury sitting back and relax or outsource Nepal affairs again to some unemployed Left-wingers. Economic development of Nepal will be to the fullest advantage of not only the people of that country but for the entire northern India and the region as a whole.
(The author is the National Convenor of the External Affairs Cell of the BJP)