Millennium Post

Nepal rejects left radicals

Elections to the 601-member Constituent Assembly for framing a new federal constitution for Nepal was held on 19 November. The results are now out for the 240 seats which are directly elected by the people under the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system. Another 335 seats will be filled up through the proportional representation system, while 26 members will be nominated by the Cabinet.

The most notable feature of the poll results is the decisive rejection of the Left extremist Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) or UCPN-M by the electorate. The Nepali Congress bagged the largest number of 105 seats, followed by the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) or CPN(UML) which won 91 seats. Paradoxically, the CPN(UML) polled more votes (6,27,969) than the NC (5,97,792) but won less seats. The Maoists came a distant third, winning only 26 seats and polling 3,76,468 votes. Now the Nepali Congress and the CPN(UML) will have to reach an understanding on the basic principles that would guide the constitution-making process.

Ever since the monarchy was abolished in Nepal on 28 May 2008, the country has been trying to frame a constitution. But Nepal’s polity is so fractured that no party could gain a clear majority in the elections held earlier. Political differences between the parties are so irreconcilable that they could not agree on the basic principles of the constitution. In fact the exercise for constitution-making began even before the formal abolition of the monarchy. The first constituent assembly elections were held on 10 April 2008, after being postponed twice – 7 June 2007 and 22 November 2007. But the new Constituent Assembly failed to adopt a constitution due to differences between the three major parties – the Nepali Congress(NC), the CPN(UML) and the Maoist UCPN(M), led by Pushpa Kumar Dahl, better known as ‘Prachanda’. Prachanda was Prime Minister of Nepal from 2008 to 2009.

This time also, the differences in the approach between the NC and UCPN(Maoists) became apparent from the beginning. The Maoists proposed an eleven-state federal model in the new constitution. But other parties opposed the proposal on the ground that forming states on the basis of ethnicity or nationality would lead to a confrontational situation in the country.

The Maoists had proposed just three states in the southern belt where nearly half the population lives. The remaining eight states would be in the hilly areas.

Matters became more complicated when on 23 October, Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai made a unilateral announcement that promulgation of the new constitution would not be possible unless his party got a two-thirds majority in the 19 November elections. He warned that the constitution would not be drafted and the nation would plunge into another crisis unless his party won the elections. Next, on 11 November the Maoists gave a country-wide 10-day general strike call. Some other parties supported it. Such an uncompromising stand of the Maoists was not liked by the people. It led to considerable alienation of the party from the people. But the Maoists went farther. They started targeting the candidates of other parties, especially those of the CPN(UML).

Prachanda himself was defeated from his home constituency in Kathmandu, falling way behind the Nepali Congress candidate. Reacting angrily to his defeat he alleged that the polls had been rigged and demanded that the counting of votes be stopped. He, however, did win from the Siraha five constituency in southern Nepal, defeating his CPN(UML) rival Lila Shrestha by a narrow margin of 900 votes. As poll results were being declared and the party’s poor performance started sinking in among the workers, many gathered outside the party office in Kathmandu and shouted slogans for reviving the armed struggle. The party has already made its position clear: it will not take part in the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly.

The Maoists’ stand has queered the pitch for drafting a new constitution. It may not have won many seats but it still remains the largest political party in the country. The leaderships of the Nepali Congress and the CPN(UML) will have to act with considerable maturity and flexibility to accommodate each other’s position in the framing of the constitution. They will have to explain their respective positions to the people so that the constitution-making process goes on unhindered and the country does not relapse into yet another spell of armed insurgency.

Another sensitive issue is that of the ‘Madhesias’ who live in the plains or terai region in southern Nepal. They are a distinct ethnic group of people of Awadhi, Maithili and Bhojpuri descent having close ties with northern Bihar. Roughly, they account for nearly 35 per cent of Nepal’s population. But they have a feeling of being neglected.

According to one observer: ‘Despite their sizeable proportion of the Nepalese population, the Madhesias have long been discriminated as second class citizens in terms of job opportunities in Nepal’s administration and in representation in Nepal’s political set up.’ The framers of the new constitution will have to ensure that they get the place they deserve in the country’s social and political life.

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