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Political recovery

Elections in Nepal: Way forward

Though there are serious protests by Maoists on alleged irregularities in the recent election in Nepal, the centrist Nepali Congress party won the most votes in recently held general election.

The Maoists-who formed the single largest party in the previous Constituent Assembly-have been relegated to third place. They have complained that the results have been systematically rigged.

The vote is seen as vital in moving Nepal towards political stability after a 10-year Maoist revolt ended in 2006.

According to Nepal’s Election Commission, nearly 70% of Nepal’s electorate voted on November 19th, 2013 to choose a constituent assembly that would hopefully end years of turmoil and political instability and draft a new constitution.

Therefore, the turnout, despite a call for boycott by Communist Party of Nepal (CPN)-Maoist led alliance, was higher than that of the last polls held in 2008, but was hit by violence and vandalism that injured a few people.

However, people voted amidst tight security and international observation across 18,438 polling centers in the tiny landlocked country, hoping that despite many false starts with democracy, this election would set them on the road to political recovery.  
Nepal is an amalgamation of 125 ethnic groups with many spoken languages and a vibrant spread of castes and other such social groups. More than 120 political parties registered to compete in the elections this year.

Nepal has had a politically volatile last five years. A previous elected in 2008 after the abolition of the monarchy, but it was bitterly divided and failed to write a new constitution. Some questioned the guerrilla-turned-politicians ability to function a government, while some directly accused the relatively moderate Maoist outfits like the UCPN (Unified Communist Party of Nepal) of corruption.

No constitution and parliamentary paralysis has aggravated the already chronic problems like an ailing economy, youth unemployment, poverty, fuel shortages and corruption. They all have contributed to Nepal’s uncertain condition.

The troubled government has therefore not been able to adequately address economic issues, while its rich hydroelectric potential and millions worth tourism industry are dwindling away.

As the vote for the Constituent Assembly concluded, the Nepali Congress secured 24, 21, 252 votes out of a total of 93, 77,519 eligible votes. The CPN-UML (Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist) stood second with 22, 43, 447 votes while the Prachanda led UCPN-Maoist came third with 14, 38,666 votes.  

Thus out of the 240 seats under the direct voting system, the NC won 105 seats, the CPN-UML won 91 seats and the UCPN-Maoists won 26 seats. The rest went to Madhesi parties and other smaller parties that made up the 120 + political parties that registered to contest this year’s elections.

Coalition required

Because two-thirds majority in the Constituent Assembly is required for a constitution to be adopted and since no single party won a majority of seats in a Constituent Assembly, the Maoists may still play a critical though reduced role.

The new assembly is likely to convene in late-December, provided the political class reaches a consented and unified decision on the way forward regarding the contents of the Constitution and the form of government, which would then set the stage for the formation of a new government.

It is expected to take weeks before a new government takes shape, and until then the interim government led by Supreme Court Chief Justice Khilraj Regmi will continue to run the administration.

For a rumbled political history like that of Nepal’s, the elections for the new Constituent Assembly were seen as vital in moving it towards stability and progress. However, even the victory of the Nepali Congress by a comfortable lead appeared to have resolved little in politically uncertain Nepal. As no political party has got a clear majority to form a government on its own, a coalition is the only option available.

The majority of seats in the Constituent Assembly will be determined by proportional votes, wherein, according to the result, the Nepali Congress and the Marxist-Leninists are the front contenders likely to dominate the new Constituent assembly. Together, the two are expected to negotiate and discuss the formation of the next government.

However, as Nepal’s future stability may well be dependant on the Maoists joining a national level coalition government, the fact that the party, having dominated the political scene of Nepal for a decade now, has raised fears that the Maoists will not go quietly.

They have already alleged a systematic rigging of votes, while some diehard Maoists have even called for a return to insurgency. Although it is true that keeping the defeated Maoists within the political process will be a challenge, that could directly affect the prospects of stability in Nepal, it is imperative that they don’t resolve to such tactics to achieve their agendas.

Along with the prospect of a hung parliament, there are also fears of widespread Maoist unrest. Though the Maoists have won most votes, they haven’t secured an overall majority. Alleging widespread fraud right after they realized how badly they were fairing, they threatened to boycott the new assembly if vote counting wasn’t stopped and investigated upon. However, not only did the Election Commission reject their demands, officials and foreign observers, of which one was America’s former President Jimmy Carter, hailed the elections as well conducted.

Future stability

Moreover, Nepal’s future stability is also significantly dependant on how the talks for power sharing among the leading political parties pan out. Intense negotiations are likely to take place in the next few days over the allocation of ministerial portfolios and power sharing, which could very well turn into serious bone of contentions among their already bitter animosity.

The country’s numerous parties have chronically argued over the years about who should become the Prime Minister, whether the Prime Minister should have executive powers and whether the country should be divided into a federal system based on ethnicity or geography.

In addition, while the larger goal of the Constituent Assembly elections was to finally finish the constitution, there is very little agreement about what type of government to install. If the political leaders are unable to consent to a unified decision, then the fear that the political instability will carry on remains, despite a successful election.

While a return to open warfare is unlikely, the absence of a strong governing force will make sure that such a possibility doesn’t vanish from the national imagination.

Healing the national economy remains a major hurdle. While agriculture remains its principal industry driving its economy, providing one third of Nepal’s GDP, the nation depends on foreign aid for nearly two-thirds of its development projects and remittances sent by Nepali’s working abroad.

Conditions in Nepal have gone from bad to worse with constant fuel and water shortages resulting in poor socio-economic conditions like 14 hours of power cuts a day.

Rampant corruption doesn’t attract much foreign investment, although its neighbors-India and China are always eyeing Nepal’s hydroelectric potential, aside from its strategic incentive.

However, even these two countries are also unable to contribute significantly towards bringing real stability in Nepal, for domestic rival political parties are divided on the question of who to foster strong ties with-India or China.

However, this is also a golden opportunity for the political class of Nepal to show maximum restraint when it comes to petty politics and instead focus on streamlining their country’s political and economic future.

If the political parties are really serious about bringing stability and progress back to the Himalayan country, then they must work together towards further strengthening democracy in Nepal.

Already a huge voter turnout and a relatively stable election day have proven that the people want democracy to function smoothly as they want to break away from their turbulent past. Therefore, the political class must not let this opportunity to go waste.

Nepali voters rejected a party led by former Maoist insurgents and put two established parties in a position to form a coalition government, but reaching consensus on a new federal framework remains a challenge.