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Calling Elections in Nepal

Post Bahadur Basnet, who is from Nepal, is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA). Click here for detailed profile
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  • June 24, 2013

    In a major political development, the interim election government of Nepal announced last week that the elections to a new constituent assembly would be held on 19 November, 2013. This is very significant as the eluding political consensus had led many to speculate that the poll would be postponed to the next spring. Even three months after its formation, the Interim Election Council of Ministers (IECM) led by chief justice Khilaraj Regmi had not been able to announce the poll date due to inter-party disputes over some electoral provisions. After a series of inter-party meetings failed to yield results, the High Level Political Committee (HLPC), comprising the senior leaders of the four major parties, had decided to accept the decisions of the election government.

    There were mainly four major contentious issues on the table: 1) threshold for seats under the Proportional Representation (PR); 2) numerical strength of the new assembly; 3) disclosure of property details of the candidates; and 4) disqualification of the court-convicts from contesting the poll.

    The interim government took the middle path. The newly enacted ordinance limited the numerical strength of the assembly to 491, disregarding the demands of the Maoists and the Madhesi parties that the number be increased to 601, similar to the size of the last assembly. On the other hand, the government removed the provision of one per cent threshold for the parties to get their shares under the PR system. The Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML were in favour of the threshold arguing that this provision would make the assembly less fragmented. Similarly, rejecting one of the major demands of the Maoist and Madhesi parties, the government accepted the recommendation of the Election Commission to bar the court-convicts from contesting the polls. The government also removed the provision that the candidates would have to disclose their property details.

    The Regmi-led government has already formed a body, as per the constitutional provision, to readjust the electoral constituencies on the basis of the latest census. The boundaries of around three dozen electoral constituencies need to be redrawn keeping in view the number of constituencies allocated for the first-past-the-post election. As per the ordinance, 240 members will be elected under the PR system and 240 under the first-past-the-post system, while 11 will be nominated by the new council of ministers.

    With the latest developments the chances of holding the poll have increased significantly. The election commission has started making necessary preparations and the political parties are already out on the hustings. But the road to elections is not without hitches.

    First, the radical CPN-Maoist led by Mohan Baidya “Kiran” has vowed to boycott the elections and taken to the streets demanding the dissolution of the current government. The party has alleged that the Regmi-led government was formed by the ‘external powers’ to serve their vested interests. Baidya, who split from the UCPN (Maoist) led by the allegedly “revisionist” Prachanda to keep the flame of communist revolution alive, has also termed the announcement of the poll date a unilateral decision taken by the “four-party syndicate” without consulting him.

    But the CPN-Maoist itself is divided over the issue with some leaders demanding that the party should participate in the election and “utilize the constituent assembly forum for revolutionary purposes”. If the radicals boycott the election, they are likely to resort to violent tactics in their attempt to disrupt the poll. While they are not strong enough to derail the electoral process, they can cause significant violence in over a dozen districts where they are comparatively strong. Sensing threats from the Baidya party, the government plans to come up with some army-backed security arrangements.

    The parties that have allied themselves with Baidya and have some electoral prospects, are likely to contest the elections. Such parties include Federal Socialist Party-Nepal led by Ashok Rai and Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Nepal by Upendra Yadav.

    Second, though contentious issues appear to have been settled for the moment, the major parties may try to find excuses to postpone the polls if they do not see their good electoral prospects during their campaigns. Prachanda is now vociferously demanding that elections be held as scheduled. However, he realises that Kiran’s participation in the election could lead to sharing of votes between the two Maoist parties and affect his electoral prospects. So, if Kiran’s party reverses its position and decides to contest the election, Prachanda may push for the postponement of the election until the situation turns in his favour.

    The weakened position of Madhesi parties in their Madhes region, and the strong challenge they face from Upendra may also force these parties to either forge alliances among themselves, or seek some pretexts to put off the election. Likewise, participation of Kiran and Upendra in the election gives big advantages to the Congress and UML which may prompt these parties to find excuses to put off the elections until these two leaders deicide in favour of the poll.

    Despite such apprehensions, political commentators in Kathmandu are optimistic about the election in November. “Despite CPN-M’s clamour, it is almost sure that the election will be held in November, with or without the CPN-M. The political parties cannot run away from the election," says Tika Dhakal, a political analyst in Nepal.

    Nepal’s first elected constituent assembly was dissolved in May 2012 without drafting a constitution in four years. The new constituent assembly is expected to bring some semblance of order to the Himalayan republic. The postponement of the elections will only deepen the political crisis and may lead to anarchy.
    In this context, the international community, especially India, also have their roles to play for the stability in Nepal and ensure that the election is held as scheduled. The prolonged instability in the northern neighbour may only jeopardise India’s security interests.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

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