Nepal and its secular credentials

The results of the elections held on 19 November 2013 in Nepal have put the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist party of Nepal CPN (UML) firmly in the drivers’ seat with the former being a pro-India party. The second constituent assembly (CA) elections of Nepal to choose 601 members had  a record of 77.5 per cent turnout. Of these, 240 members are directly elected while 335 are selected through proportional representation (PR) and 26 seats were reserved for nominated members. In the PR system voters pick a political party. These 335 seats are divided among the 122 competing political parties according to the proportion of the total vote that each party gets. The latest communication from the Nepal EC is that a party has to secure a minimum of 18,600 votes to earn a seat in the CA.

There were a large number of political parties that were against the elections but a record 77.5 per cent turn out is self-explanatory to the naysayers. The aim of this CA is to replace the assembly that was dissolved in May 2012, as it was unable to draft a new constitution. Nepal was initially governed as a monarchy. From 1996 to 2006 there was a civil war waged by the Maoist. In 2008, monarchy was abolished and the first CA was elected, headed by the Maoist but failed to promulgate a constitution in the required time frame thus the need for a second CA elections. The naysayers consisted of 33 fringe political parties and a radical faction led by Mohan Baidya from the Maoist party. The Maoist faction felt the main party had compromised too much on the revolutionary ideals, while the fringe political parties felt that without resolving the contentious issues that did not permit a consensus in drafting the constitution re-elections were meaningless.

The issues that bedevil the drafting of the constitution are many. The voter has ensured those who both polarised and radicalised the political landscape have not been re-elected. Thus the United Communist Party of Nepal, UCPN (Maoist) who had 229 seats in the first CA elections are now down to 80 seats. On the other hand the Nepali Congress (oldest political party of Nepal) which had 115 seats in the first elections is now up to 196.

Thus the Maoist who exchanged the bullet for the ballet last had 38.1 per cent or 229 seats in the first CA have thus been eased out by the voter to a distant third position as they were unable to deliver the constitution, and Nepal experiment from leftist has returned back to moderate centrist democracy. Nepal Congress (NC) had 19.1 per cent or 115 seats in the last elections have been elevated to first position but lacks a clear mandate to draft the tricky issues of the constitution which have been a stumbling block; current rating in PR is 26 per cent.

The Madhesi (people of Indian origin living in the Terai region), who had a total of 12.5 per cent of the total seats and were quite strong in the last elections, have also lost out this time just as the Maoist for near similar reasons. The gainers have been Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N). This party is now in the fourth position which is a centre-right; royalist political party in Nepal and splinter group of the RPP now in fifth position. The difference between the two factions is allegiance to the royalty, with the latter formed out of the political elite of the erstwhile Panchayat system. Is this a revival of the institution of monarchy in Nepal?

The Communist party of Nepal CPN (UML) was formed on 6 January 1991 through Party of Nepal (Marxist–Leninist). CPN (UML) was a product of the Jana Andolan (People’s Movement) uprising where communists, together with the Nepali Congress, played a major role to restore democracy in Nepal. It currently has 175 seats in this CA with 25 per cent votes in the PR elections the second highest in this election.

To sum up, in the current elections the NC is leading with a total of 196 seats. The CPN (UML) is second with 175 seats, the Maoist with 80 seats are a poor third and acting like spoilt sports and have also asked for a special probe into alleged election malpractices. The final tally will increase marginally with the 26 seats for nominations being divided as per percentage of seats won.

What are the issues that need to be sorted out for which no political party has a clear mandate. The first thing is the nature of the state, will there be a federal government based on ethnic lines as proposed by the Maoist? Earlier Nepal was a Hindu kingdom, how will it define its secular credentials now? Nepal has been a Kathmandu centric society, how will it decentralise to accommodate interests of diverse ethnic and linguistic groups. What will be the role of the rightist parties in asking for a ceremonial king, will there be a revival of the same?

The disruptive power of the communist needs to be understood. Prachanda had a larger than life image, will the two factions combine one that fought the elections and one that did not. The international community and India in particular need to be patient with Nepal. Just as Maldives has produced new challenges so will Nepal, and Bangladesh may well provide another challenge. The bulk of India baiting takes place in the capital Kathmandu where the political elite live will the voice of the average citizen be heard in Kathmandu?

Nepal needs to find economic answers to large scale migration of its youth with more than two million youth working here in India and the Gulf sending home remittances. The history of Nepal is replete with exporting manpower as currency, these needs to change and can only happen once there are employment opportunities at home. The modest GDP must grow from 3.6 per cent to higher figures. The NC and centre left CPN (UML) need to work together to pull Nepal out of this verdict.

They have a history of working  together, can they get the required two third majority. The old issues need to be resolved and new answers need to be found. India needs to play its cards carefully. It has cultural and religious age old ties with Nepal.

The author is a retired brigadier
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