The Tense Nepali Polls

Southasia - - THE LAST STOP - By Anees Jil­lani Anees Jil­lani is an ad­vo­cate of the Supreme Court of Pak­istan and a mem­ber of the Wash­ing­ton, DC Bar. He has been writ­ing for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions for more than 20 years and has au­thored sev­eral books.

Nepal fi­nally con­ducted the much-awaited elec­tions on Novem­ber 19 in the midst of height­en­ing ten­sions which were be­ing seen as crit­i­cal to the coun­try’s sta­bil­ity and de­vel­op­ment.

Vot­ers chose a new Con­stituent As­sem­bly fol­low­ing the dis­so­lu­tion of the last one in May 2012 af­ter fail­ing to pro­duce a much-an­tic­i­pated post-war con­sti­tu­tion. It was hoped that the pre­vi­ous As­sem­bly would come up with a new con­sti­tu­tion to help the coun­try emerge from the 1996-2006 civil war that killed more than 15,000 peo­ple but it failed mainly due to the con­tentious is­sues re­lat­ing to the struc­ture of the State and shar­ing of power.

The cur­rent polls were crit­i­cized by some for fail­ing to reg­is­ter all the el­i­gi­ble ap­prox­i­mately 16 mil­lion vot­ers. 12.5 mil­lion were reg­is­tered, leav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant sec­tion of the pop­u­la­tion dis­en­fran­chised.

The elec­tions were marred by an op­po­si­tion al­liance which at­tempted to ob­struct elec­tion-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties, threat­en­ing to pro­long the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity. As a re­sult, the army was de­ployed for the first time to pro­vide elec­toral se­cu­rity since fight­ing ended. An op­po­si­tion 33-party al­liance held a 10-day na­tion­wide trans­porta­tion strike which led up to the Novem­ber 19 polls. The CPN-Maoists and their al­lies con­ducted doorto-door cam­paigns to dis­suade peo­ple from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the elec­tions, burnt copies of the elec­tion code and en­forced lo­cal trans­porta­tion strikes. Cadres of the two Maoist par­ties clashed vi­o­lently in some cases.

At times it ap­peared, in the words of the for­mer chief elec­tion com­mis­sioner who over­saw the coun­try’s first na­tional post-con­flict poll in 2008, “… as if Nepal was go­ing into a war rather than an elec­tion. Elec­tions are civil­ian af­fairs con­ducted to man­age con­flict in a so­ci­ety, and not lead to con­flicts.”

The coun­try’s 240-year old Hindu monar­chy, which Maoist rebels had been fight­ing in the decade-long con­flict, ended with the 2008 na­tional elec­tion. A 601mem­ber Con­stituent As­sem­bly was elected. Women won 33 per­cent of the seats, with 39 fe­males elected com­ing from the Dalit com­mu­nity, the marginal­ized, his­tor­i­cally low­est caste in the coun­try.

The As­sem­bly, how­ever, failed in its prin­ci­pal mis- sion to draft a new con­sti­tu­tion, de­spite be­ing given four ex­ten­sions. A care­taker gov­ern­ment led by Maoist PM Babu­ram Bhat­tarai came to power. Shortly af­ter the dis­so­lu­tion, a break­away party led by Mo­han Baidya split from the main­stream Maoists, ac­cus­ing party lead­ers of sur­ren­der­ing too much dur­ing the peace process, in­clud­ing dis­band­ing the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army.

Un­able to forge con­sen­sus on when to hold elec­tions, Bhat­tarai stepped down in March 2013 and, in a con­tro­ver­sial move, Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice Khilraj Regmi be­came the head of gov­ern­ment. The lat­ter, with the sup­port of the four ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties, an­nounced the Novem­ber 19 poll date. The Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal (CPN)-Maoist break­away party then al­lied with an al­liance of 33 small par­ties, to protest the elec­tion.

Nepal is a beau­ti­ful coun­try. Its cap­i­tal, Kathmandu, has been called a mu­seum with­out walls. For 2,500 years the Ne­wars, its in­hab­i­tants, cre­ated count­less master­pieces of Bud­dhist and Hindu art, whose fame trav­elled far, via the strate­gic trade route be­tween north­ern In­dia and Ti­bet. The great flow­er­ing of art and ideas, and re­sult­ing wealth, closed in on it­self when in 1850 un­der Rana rule, Nepal adopted a pol­icy of deliberate po­lit­i­cal iso­la­tion, which lasted a cen­tury. Since 1952, Nepal has been mak­ing bold strides to catch up with the rest of the world while striv­ing to main­tain its own cul­tural iden­tity.

Its po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship, how­ever, has not been meet­ing the ex­pec­ta­tions of the elec­torate. There is po­lit­i­cal stag­na­tion and the con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis has con­trib­uted to the steady and con­tin­ued ero­sion of the rule of law, stalling de­vel­op­ment and chok­ing off ac­cess to jus­tice for the peo­ple. Many Nepalis voted but re­mained skep­ti­cal that the same peo­ple will end up in power, This is the prob­lem with Nepal – the vot­ers make the same peo­ple pow­er­ful, and they stay in­ter­ested in power only, not im­prov­ing the coun­try. Sounds fa­mil­iar?

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