The Day Af­ter

The newly elected Con­stituent As­sem­bly of Nepal has to ad­dress many press­ing is­sues such as fram­ing a new Con­sti­tu­tion and at­tend­ing to other key prob­lems.

Southasia - - REGION NEPAL - By S. M. Hali The writer is a prac­tis­ing jour­nal­ist. He con­trib­utes to the print me­dia and pro­duces doc­u­men­taries.

The Nepalese po­lit­i­cal mi­asma, de­scribed as murky at best, has ex­pe­ri­enced its sec­ond elec­tions since the end of a 10-year-long Maoist re­volt in 2006. The pre­vi­ous Con­stituent As­sem­bly, elected in 2008 af­ter the over­throw of the 240-year-old monar­chy, was tasked with fram­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion but failed to do so. An in­terim gov­ern­ment, formed early last year and led by the Chief Jus­tice of the Supreme Court, Khilraj Regmi, has over­seen the Novem­ber 2013 elec­tions.

On the eve of the vote, CJ Regmi con­demned spo­radic vi­o­lence in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try, stat­ing that the se­cu­rity forces would en­sure a free and fair elec­tion. A group of op­po­si­tion par­ties, led by a break­away Maoist fac­tion, had called for a na­tion­wide dis­rup­tion of the vote. It wanted a new gov­ern­ment – with rep­re­sen­ta­tion from all po­lit­i­cal par­ties – to con­duct elec­tions at a later date.

Apart from a few in­ci­dents of vi­o­lence, elec­tions took place peace­fully, with of­fi­cials claim­ing a 70 per­cent vot­ers’ turnout. For­eign ob­servers, in­clud­ing for­mer U.S. Pres­i­dent, Jimmy Carter and the Euro­pean Union, ex­pressed sat­is­fac­tion at the con­duct of polling.

In the pre­vi­ous elec­tions, the Maoists had won the largest num­ber of votes. But they have failed to se­cure an out­right ma­jor­ity in the lat­est elec­tions. Pushpa Ka­mal Da­hal, bet­ter known as Prachanda, the leader of Nepal's Maoist Party, had be­come the coun­try's first post-war prime min­is­ter in 2008, but re­signed nine months later fol­low­ing a dis­agree­ment with the army.

Prior to the 2013 elec­tions, Prachanda threat­ened that he would boy­cott the par­lia­ment if the vote count­ing in the "rigged" elec­tions was not halted im­me­di­ately. But the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of Nepal re­jected his de­mand.

The for­mal re­sult of the elec­tions to the sec­ond Con­stituent As­sem­bly was an­nounced on De­cem­ber 3, 2013. The Nepali Congress led the re­sults while the groups that were con­sid­ered pow­er­ful were thrown to the bot­tom per­haps be­cause of in­ter­nal feuds which ru­ined their chances of suc­cess. Though no party gained an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity, the com­bined strength of the Nepali Congress and the UML is more than 50 per­cent. How­ever, they are still short of the ma­jor­ity re­quired to ef­fec­tively and de­ci­sively amend or pass ma­jor laws.

De­spite the fact that the main chal­lenge for the new gov­ern­ment was to be the fram­ing of a con­sti­tu­tion, the is­sues fo­cused by all the par­ties in their elec­tion cam­paigns were the econ­omy, de­vel­op­ment, the role of gov­ern­ment, so­cial prob­lems and the em­pow­er­ment of marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties in­stead of the type of con­sti­tu­tion re­quired for the coun­try.

The main chal­lenge for the new gov­ern­ment, be­sides for­mu­lat­ing and pro­mul­gat­ing the con­sti­tu­tion, would be to main­tain law and or­der. As for the con­sti­tu­tion, the UML leader, Mad­hav Nepal was quoted as say­ing that his party does not mind re­view­ing the 1990 Con­sti­tu­tion with some changes. This may not be ac­cept­able to the Nepali Congress.

Let us briefly ex­am­ine the post elec­tions stance of the ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties:

The Nepali Congress has man­aged

to gain the con­fi­dence of its vot­ers and has emerged as the largest party in the as­sem­bly. This could lead to a temp­ta­tion to dis­re­gard the views of other par­ties. It could also lead the party to be­lieve that the peo­ple have given their ver­dict on its stand on the is­sue of di­vi­sion of states: that such di­vi­sions should be based on geo­graph­i­cal re­al­i­ties and eco­nomic sus­tain­abil­ity rather than on eth­nic­ity and iden­tity.

This ap­proach could spell dis­as­ter. The top lead­er­ship of the Nepali Congress, com­pris­ing Sushil Koirala, Ram Chan­dra Paudel and Sher Ba­hadur Deuba, has had se­ri­ous dif­fer­ences which make the party di­vi­sive. They have to ei­ther sink their dif­fer­ences or pass the ba­ton on to some­one else.

The elec­toral per­for­mance of the UML has im­proved. It was ex­pected to be marginal­ized by the rise of Maoists in the 2008 elec­tions but the UML has shown that it can hold out on its own. In ad­di­tion to Bamdev Gau­tham, all the three top lead­ers – Mad­hav Nepal, Jha­lanath Khanal and K.P. Oli – have won with sub­stan­tial mar­gins. Ide­o­log­i­cally, both the Nepali Congress and the UML iden­tify with each other. If they co­or­di­nate, they can bring about a long spell of sta­bil­ity and eco­nomic pros­per­ity in Nepal.

The UCPN (Maoist) got routed be­cause of its poor per­for­mance when it was in gov­ern­ment. It be­haved like a sore loser by boy­cotting the count­ing of votes and al­leg­ing of con­spir­a­cies and vote rig­ging. The lead­er­ship of the party must re­group, swal­low the bit­ter pill of de­feat and work hard to fur­ther the party’s agenda of fed­er­al­ism, re­pub­li­can­ism, sec­u­lar­ism, eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion and em­pow­er­ment of the peo­ple.

The Mad­hesi groups also per­formed dis­as­trously at the polls. This should not have been a sur­prise con­sid­er­ing that most of the par­ties have split into many smaller fac­tions that fight against each other in­stead of fight­ing as a united front.

The for­ma­tion of the gov­ern­ment will be a dif­fi­cult task con­sid­er­ing the ob­vi­ous ob­sta­cles. The first is­sue that needs to be sorted out will be whether or not to al­low the cur­rent Pres­i­dent, Ram Baran Ya­dav to con­tinue. Hav­ing re­mained in power for more than five years, the hon­or­able thing would be if the Pres­i­dent re­tired in a re­spect­ful man­ner rather than get­ting in­volved in an avoid­able con­tro­versy.

Nepal’s road to democ­racy is go­ing to be a thorny one. In Jan­uary 2013, the UN noted that high-level po­lit­i­cal stag­na­tion was al­low­ing the “slow but per­sis­tent de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and ef­fec­tive gov­er­nance”. The other costs of the con­sti­tu­tional stale­mate are also high. In the ab­sence of a sta­ble po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment, sev­eral pieces of leg­is­la­tion, in­clud­ing a Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Act and the es­tab­lish­ment of a truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion com­mis­sion, have been on hold.

The fail­ure to write a con­sti­tu­tion and the sub­se­quent leg­isla­tive vacuum in Nepal has led to a steady and con­tin­ued ero­sion of the rule of law in the coun­try, stalling de­vel­op­ment and chok­ing off ac­cess to jus­tice for the or­di­nary Nepalese. The new gov­ern­ment has its task cut-out to ad­dress these press­ing is­sues.

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