Nepal: Struggling Himalayan Democracy


The second constituent assembly (CA) elections in Nepal, slated for November 19 this year, were to give some hope to the politically frustrated masses and bring the derailed transitional political process back on track. But that did neither.


The initial euphoria following the formation of an elected government last March and the subsequent announcement of a poll date has got a jolt, with some parties threatening to boycott the election and even resort to violence to disrupt the process. The major political parties, on the other hand, still look like lame ducks, not much enthused about the elections, while political pundits also look at the prospect of elections in November with serious doubts.


By contrast, most political analysts and politicians in the capital Kathmandu say the election is likely to be postponed to next April that may add further uncertainty to the rudderless transitional politics of the young republic.


The radical Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) led by Mohan Baidya alias Kiran has recently centre stage in the country’s political process. The last central committee (CC) meeting of the party officially decided to boycott the elections – ‘actively’ and ‘forcefully’-- and even ‘raise arms’ if need be. As decided, the party has implemented the CC resolutions by launching a nationwide programme against the CA election on July 26. The leaders of the party fanned out different parts of Kathmandu city and some of them reportedly smashed a mock ballot box. Further, the Parbat district chapter of the party on July 29 decided to prevent people from voting by using force.


The Mohan Baidya-led party, which split from the Prachanda-led Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) [UCPN-M] in 2012, has almost half of the war-time cadres who don’t have faith in electoral politics and advocate capture of the state through violent means.


The party has put forward two preconditions for its participation in the election: roundtable conference of all-stakeholders and dissolution of the current Interim Electoral Council of Ministers [IECM] led by Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi, which they believe was formed by ‘external powers’ to fulfill their ‘vested interests’.  Interestingly, the second rung leaders from the top four political parties also subscribe the same view. They believe that the Baidya faction may join the electoral process if the Chairman of the IECM resigns as  the Chief Justice.


But these preconditions only seem to be excuses to disrupt the polls. The radicals argue that the roundtable meeting should resolve the outstanding constitutional issues before the elections are held, which is not acceptable to the other major parties. Nor will the dissolution of the IECM lead to solutions; it will only deepen the political crisis as the country doesn’t have a consensus candidate at this moment to lead a new government.


The move to disrupt the polls, party insiders say, comes from their necessity to justify the vertical split of the party in 2012. If they participate in the elections, they cannot differentiate themselves from the Maoists led by Prachanda whom they accused of ideological deviation by dabbling with  electoral politics. And if they just boycott the elections, they will be out of the corridor of power and marginalized in national politics. Hence, the need for disruption of the elections.


Are they strong enough to disrupt the polls? While they are strong only in the Midwestern hills of the Himalayan country, the possibility of their alliance with deposed king Gyanendra and other nationalist forces cannot be ruled out. If this potential alliance materializes, the elections will see significant violence throughout the country. Still, they will not be able to disrupt the whole electoral process.


The talks over the Baidya-Gyanendra alliance, on the other hand, have also created a rift in the 33-party alliance led by Baidya. Matrika Yadav, who leads a small radical communist party, especially in the Terai, has vehemently opposed the UCPN-M’s move saying the monarch is not a ‘nationalist’, while a few other leaders have complained that they are being ignored by Baidya while formulating the party’s policy.   


Again, the potential conflict between the security forces and the Baidya party cadres may plunge the country into another round of violence. The violence against this party may force the latter to go underground and begin another round of Maoist insurgency. Even if they launch an insurgency, they are likely to be limited to some pockets of the country. But, with their potential alliance with other forces they have the capacity to create widespread chaos.   


Among those who are advocating the election boycott, the Upendra Yadav-led Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, Nepal (MJF-N), Ashok Rai-led Federal Socialist Party (FSP) and J.P. Gupta-led Terai-Madhes National Campaign are comparatively strong in certain constituencies. They are, however, likely to participate in the elections if the government addresses their demands to increase the number of seats under proportional representation.


As per the existing provision, 240 members will be elected under a first-past-the-post system and another 240 under the proportional representation and 11 will be nominated by the newly formed cabinet to the 491-member House. If these parties really back the CPN-M, the situation will only aggravate, and the second Constituent Assembly will also lack legitimacy. 


Similarly, the Terai armed groups, which have formed an alliance called: Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) in July this year, have threatened to resort to violence to disrupt the polls. Recently, they shot two members of the Madhes-based parties in the country’s southern plains to create terror in the region. While the government claims they are not strong enough to disrupt the electoral process, they can create disturbances at the local level and target candidates.


On the other hand, despite their public rhetoric, the commitment of the four major parties to the scheduled election is questionable. First, the political equation and people’s loyalty might have changed significantly since the last constituent assembly elections in 2008, and the political parties are not sure about their real strength. Many survey reports show that a very large section of the population is undecided over which party they will vote for.


So the parties will try to buy time to work out an appropriate strategy and woo their supporters. Second, all the major parties suffer from serious factionalism and the parties are likely to see disputes among the factions over the fielding of the candidates. And they also need time to make preparations and settle these disputes. Third, with less than 120 days left for the elections, the top four political parties are yet forge a consensus on delimitations of the constituencies’ total number of seats in the House and the use of old or new voters’ list. 


And, finally, Prachanda doesn’t want Baidya to participate in the elections as that would lead to the sharing of the Maoist votes. But if Baidya contests the election, it will damage the electoral prospect of the Prachanda-led party and benefit the Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML. So these parties also need time as they hope to bring Baidya’s party onboard. Likewise, Madhesi parties have become weak in their constituencies in the southern plains and have so far failed to forge alliances among themselves, which may prompt them to oppose the elections.  


All these factors may lead to the postponement of the election to next April (2014). But, not holding elections soon would mean letting the current elected government continue to lead the country. As the political parties function through a network of patronage  in this part of the world, they cannot afford to stay out of power for long and lose their support base. Postponement of elections for a few months may provide an opportunity to bring onboard those advocating the boycott of elections. The political transition in Nepal is getting more complex and the parties will have to overcome many previously unseen hurdles along the way. 


Courtesy: South Asia Conflict Monitor, Vol. 1 (3), August 2013]

Author Note
Post Bahadur Basnet is a career journalist and researcher, presently a Visiting Fellow at the New Delhi based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA). He began his career as a journalist in 2003 and worked with the Kathmandu Post and the Republica, two leading English language daily in Nepal as a political correspondent and sub-editor. Basnet had a stint at the International Crisis Group (ICG) in Kathmandu as a researcher in the past. . His research interests are: Social Movement, Political Violence and Democracy.