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.
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.