India should wait and watch
Left victory in Nepal may ensure stability.
The first national parliamentary elections in Nepal in the post-royal era connotes the most spectacular political transition from the bullet to the ballot, fitted into a Constitutional revolution from the world's only Hindu state into a secular democratic polity. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres hailed the elections as "a historic moment for Nepal in implementing its federal structure as enshrined in the 2015 Constitution". This was preceded by a decade-and-a half civil war, ended in 2006, killing of about 17000 people. But perhaps even more significant is the victory of communist alliance of Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) that achieved a near-two-thirds majority, its pragmatic and nationalistic cushion notwithstanding.
The CPN(UML) will just miss the majority in the new national assembly. It has won 80 out of 165 seats in the Federal Parliament in direct election (First-Past-The-Post system), and is expected to win another. It polled 1637694 votes (36 per cent) in the seats already won. In the second Constituent Assembly (2013), it got less than 30 per cent. Its ally CPN(MC) has got 36 seats, thanks to seat-sharing with the CPN(UML). The latter got 649136 votes (14 per cent) .In the last national elections to Constituent Assembly in 2013, the Maoists who fought alone bagged 26 out of 240 FTPT seats and over 17 per cent of votes. Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, formed by merger of six Madhesist Parties bagged 11 seats. Federal Socialist Forum, Nepal, opened its account winning 10 seats. Naya Shakti, Jan Morcha and Nepal Majdur Kishan each won one each. An independent candidate too was elected.
The final shape of the law-making body will be known after proportional seats are filled in. The strength of NC will be larger than the Maoists. FSFN will also have a significant presence as it got 3 per cent of votes. In the election to provincial assemblies, CPN(UML), CPN(MC) and NC got 168, 73 and 40 seats respectively, followed by FSFN and RJP winning 24 and 16 seats respectively. Janmorcha and Nayashakti got one each. NMK won one, while three went to Independents. Others drew blank.
The mass support of CPN(MC) is shrinking, if one looks at the performance in the Federal Parliament. Whether the party will learn the lesson from this is to be awaited, although its chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda will most probably be offered the post of President by the CPN(UML) which is almost certain to choose the former Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli as the PM. He won by a margin of 28,000 votes from Jhapa-5. He polled the highest number of votes - 57,139 votes. Consider the contrast with his comrade and a prominent leader Deepak Prakash Bhatta who scraped through by a slender margin of 258, defeating the Nepali Congress heavyweight Ramesh Lekhak from Kanchanpur-3 constituency. Bhatta secured 26,364 votes whereas Lekhak garnered 26,106 votes.
CPN (Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda has been elected from Chitwan-3 by a margin of 9,327 votes. Nepali Congress President and PM Sher Bahadur Deuba won from Dadeldhura constituency for the sixth time. He bagged 28,044 votes, almost 7000 votes more than UCPN (MC). The NC, despite fractured within by internal bickering, is the second largest party, having polled 1,437, 709 votes (34 per cent). In 2013, it got less than 30 per cent of votes. Sagaciously enough, K P Oli promised that the new government would take the Opposition into confidence.
One of the main reasons for the setback of NC is the inept handling of nationwide economic crisis during the Indian blockade by the NC-led government and inability to curb widespread corruption – together building anti-incumbency, afflicting the Deuba government.
The Constitution puts a bar on the Opposition from registering a no-confidence vote for two years, but does not bar coalition partners from pulling out. Observers await how the political parties – mainly CPN (UML), NC and CPN (MC) which together received 84 per cent of votes – build the Himalayan state into a model of secular democracy. Well-known constitutional expert Bipin Adhikari observed in a precautionary tone that nothing – no rule or statute – can ensure guarantee for stability, implying that all this depends on the players – not only the law-makers but political parties and individuals too. The land-locked state confronts "a constitutional experiment, and we are yet to see whether it works in our favour."
The CPN(UML) mixing pragmatism and developmentalism have to strengthen the emerging democratic polity. Both K P Oli and Prachanda are keen on bonhomie with China but the spirit behind this is more emotional than political. Which is why the new government may scale up the priority on extension of the Chinese railway network into Nepal and implement hydroelectric, airport and other infrastructure projects which are expected to open substantial employment potentials. But it cannot reverse the cancellation of Budhi Gandaki hydel project (storage type) with the Chinese Gejuwa as it was a sequel to a recommendation by the parliamentary committee, which having gone into the doings-on during the gestation phase, found that the agreement was. 'marred by irregularities and lack of transparency". Whether the new regime will keep the Indian government in loop on this issue, is to be seen. Nepal is a natural buffer between China and India.
Political analysts are keen on assessing the modalities of merger of the two communist parties, particularly the pattern of sharing leadership. The imperative for togetherness is stronger after the spectacular performance of Left in the national elections. The leaders of two parties announced the move for merger almost synchronously with the forging of Left alliance. This had an effect on the elections. But the question is whether Maoist party accepts the status of junior partner, as the CPN(UML) is way above the CPN(MC) in poll performance.
The Left alliance with big majority, has enough leverage to start the process of economic rejuvenation in Nepal.
For India, the moot issue is how the new Communist leadership shapes Nepal's future relations with India and China.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)