Nepal: The Rough Road Ahead
With less than a fortnight left for the second Constituent Assembly (CA) elections, which are scheduled to be held on November 19, uncertainly looms large over their peaceful conduct and the framing of the Constitution. This has resulted in lack of enthusiasm from people towards participation in the elections. People across the country also question the legitimacy of the elections given the boycott of the CPN-Maoist led 33-agitating political parties and their demand for holding the elections under a legitimate government. The CPN-Maoist is the largest group amongst the 33-political parties with the support of around 90 former CA members. Earlier, although the CPN-Maoist had declared its intention not to indulge in violent activities while boycotting the polls, the CPN-Maoist cadres have in recent times, increased their attacks on the NC, UML and UCPN-Maoist since mid-October. In fact, the party has recently declared a nationwide general strike across the country in the last ten days (from November 11) of the elections.
There are mixed responses over the CPN-Maoist’s call for 10-day strike. The security agencies believe that the CPN-Maoist does not have potential to carry out massive attacks during the elections. It can prevent the candidates from campaigning and voters from casting their votes in their strongholds in Rukum and Rolpa districts and some areas of far-western districts. However, anticipating attacks during elections, security agencies have introduced a special security plan named "Operation Seal" in the mid-western region. Secondly, these areas are also equally influenced by the UCPN-Maoist. The UCPN (Maoist) has the potential to retaliate against the CPN-Maoist attacks. Therefore, the CPN-Maoist may succeed only in preventing voters and candidates from participating in the elections freely. Fourth, the CPN-Maoist is no more a rebel group. As a political party, it cannot not afford to indulge in violent activities. Last but not the least, there could be pressure from the international community on the CPN-Maoist for not obstructing the electoral process by adopting any violent means.
The second interpretation is that the CPN-Maoist will attack other party candidates and the elections may not be peaceful. The CPN-Maoist terror tactics will affect a large number of people adversely and they may not participate freely in the elections. In the post-election period, the party will continue to protest against the framing of the new constitution. Despite a three-tier security arrangement for the elections, people do not seem to have full faith on it. Some, in fact, are not ruling out cancellation of the elections at the last moment given large-scale violence before it.
Apart from the CPN-Maoist, the Federal Limbuwan Sate Council (FLSC) in the eastern region and illegal armed groups in the Terai region have been opposing the elections. The FLSC and the CPN-Maoist have already protested the holding of elections by organising strikes. Similarly, illegal armed groups in the Terai region have threatened to target Madhesi candidates.
Despite elaborate security arrangements, local administrations have failed to check violence across the country. Around 22 people are injured in 15 poll-related incidents, mostly targeted attacks by the cadres of the CPN-Maoist and armed groups operating in the Terai region since October 03. Given the increase in violent incidents and, security agencies have arrested a number of district level leaders of the CPN-Maoist as a precautionary measure to avoid further violent incidents during elections.
In response to the attacks of October 26 the UCPM-Moist directed all its committees to retaliate. It is widely believed that the CPN-Maoist was expecting a favourable response from the High Level Political Committee (HLPC) and the government over their two major demands. That could be the reason why the party did not obstruct the nomination process. With no response from the government and the HLPC until October 02, the party announced that the dialogue process with the HLPC had ended. The party decided to reach out the people in villages and discourage candidates from contesting the CA polls. The next day, clashes broke out between the UCPN (Maoist) CPN-Maoist, that opposed the polls, in Salyan district. Around a dozen cadres of the two sides were injured in the clashes.
Since the Nepal government and agitating parties are adamant on their respective positions on the election, there is the possibility of more violence occurring close to November 19 and even after. Significantly, the issue of federalism was one of the major and immediate factors for the dissolution of the 2008 CA in May 2012. Like 2008, this time also, federalism has dominated the election manifestos of various political parties. Given the differences in views on the issue, in the post-election period, the issue of federalism may delay the Constitution making process. The parties/groups opposing the polls will intensify their agitation and will demand the declaration of the November 19 elections as illegitimate. In the event of that happening, there are strong possibilities of ethnic conflicts erupting in Nepal due to further delay in the constitution making process.