IPCS Discussion

Contemporary Nepal: Elections, Constitution-Making and Internal Politics

07 Nov, 2013    ·   4168

Roomana Hukil reports on the IPCS-KAS discussion held on 22 October 2013

Roomana Hukil
Roomana Hukil
Research Officer

Dr Nishchal Nath Pandey
Director, Centre for South Asian Studies, Nepal

The current situation of Nepal can be discussed through three scenarios.

Scenario I: The real strength of the 33 political parties led by CPN-Maoist’s cadre and capacity to forcibly disturb the polls is highly contestable. However, there is an apprehension that in order to avoid mass arrest of its cadres, it is safeguarding them. There are strikes called from 11 November to 19 November 2013 and as evident, bandhs have always been successful in Nepal. If there is a bandh on 19 November 2013, the voter turnout will be low. There have been two cases of physical assaults on candidates and the army has already been mobilised.

As a result, there are going to be some disgruntled groups, who are not going to be represented in the new Constituent Assembly (CA) on the pretext that ‘this does not represent the Nepali society’. In case the situation deteriorates after 11 November, elections will have to be postponed and the legitimacy of the present chief justice-led government will automatically be questioned.  
Scenario II: A hypothetical situation that is characterised by sporadic events such incidents of a few assassination attempts, blasts, etc. But the elections are still held with approximately 60 per cent voter turnout. The proportional representation (PR) system, in this case, will assuredly have 8-10 political parties that have just one or two seats. In all probability, it will result in a hung parliament. The Maoist, UML, Nepali Congress etc may come up with the same number i.e. 160, 150 and 140 (approximately) in a total house of 601, resulting in a very badly set-up hung parliament.

Nepal has had 19 prime ministers in 19 years. Thus, it is a very vibrant democracy. If a hung parliament comes into being this time around, a new government is expected to emerge every six months. This will result in a tragedy for the new CA as it is not a regular parliament. The objective of the CA will be to draft a new inclusive, democratic, forward-looking constitution for the country. If this, also, results in a hung parliament then the focus of the parliamentarians will be on forming and dismantling of governments. It will not be on drafting the constitution.

Scenario III: Federalism in Nepal is a tricky question because of the emergence of a new sovereign body. A new sovereign body must not adopt the issues of the old and obsolete CA. As an example, the Nepali Congress brought out its election manifesto, stating that they will go for a Westminster style of parliamentary democracy with a ceremonial president and elected prime minister upholding all powers. This is contrary to what the previous CA agreed i.e. to form a French model of political system in which powers would be shared between the president and the prime minister. Thus, we are already going backward and the problem now persists i.e. deciding the political system (Presidential or Westminster system for democracy) and federalism.

Pramod Jaiswal
Research Scholar, JNU, New Delhi

All the political parties are focusing on Madhes in the CA Election II (CA-II) as evidenced by the visits made to major cities in Madhes by all political parties (Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, UCPN-Maoists and CPN-Maoists) as well as former king Gyanendra. They are concentrating on Madhes because the Madhesi parties are fragmented and there are chances that they can gain votes in that region. Due to the high density of population, topography and climate, it is easy to campaign in Madhes.  Campaign costs are low and the level of awareness in Madhes is limited. However, it unlikely that the Madhesi parties will perform well in the upcoming elections despite a large number of Madhesi for the Madhesi leaders. In Madhes politics, caste dynamics are strong. Bijay Kumar Gachhedar might do well as he is the Tharu leader and Tharus constitute seven per cent of the population. Similarly, Upendra Yadav, a Yadav leader, may garner significant votes as Yadavs form four per cent of the total population. Teli, Suri, Kalwar, Halwai, Baniya and the other OBCs might vote for Rajendra Mahato. UCPN-Maoists might win the highest number of seats followed by the Nepali Congress.

Amb Jayant Prasad
Ambassador of India to Nepal

In the last CA, the Maoists got the maximum number of votes in proportion but did not get the maximum number of seats because of the Madhesi-dominated Tarai constituencies. In addition, the Madhes Tarai Forum (MTF) movement had taken place which allowed them to leverage their voting strength in the directly contested seats. Whereas in the PR seats, the Maoists made a big comeback whilst accumulating numbers. Therefore, out of the total number of seats in the CA, the Maoists did remarkably better than anyone else. But incidentally, only one Madhesi out of three voted for the Madhesi party in the last election. So, the great success in the national vote emerged from the fact that the Madhesis were able to take their vote from four per cent in the previous election to 11 per cent in 2008. Thus, the question is whether the Madhesi parties will repeat this performance this time.

The other issue is about the contradictions between the three main Madhesi parties i.e. a break-up of 52, 20 and 9. These three parties have been sub-divided into 14 parties. So, the same three parties are now 14 parties besides the number of the other Madhesi parties. This fragmentation of political parties in Nepal is because of the deep factions between them. The problem in their assimilation is that the PR idea clashes with the accommodation of seats.

Nowhere in the world has a Maoist insurgency or a Marxist movement dissolved the PLA under its own government save in Nepal. Nowhere in the world has a Marxist or Maoist head of government handed over power to a neutral authority only to facilitate the elections save Nepal. Additionally, 40 of those who entered the integration programme and joined the Nepalese army broke away and formed a new party, yearning to be a political force. Thus, the general positive feature of Nepal is that it has resolved some of the most intractable issues that can be seen in different parts of the world.

A major problem lies in the nature of constitution-making in Nepal. A lesson that has been learnt from the previous CA is that a constitution is essential for Nepal for the survival of its political parties or they will be swept aside. Thus, if the elections take place, the constitution will be written.  Second, on issues where they were not able to forge consensus, the speaker of the CA was in a tight spot as the constitution drafting was held-up and, thus, the full meeting was called off. Such a scenario may re-occur as the political parties have stated that if in the next six months, the drafting of the constitution is not initiated or if there is lack of consensus on an issue, it will be taken to a referendum. Therefore, if elections take place, it will be interesting to see what kind of a coalition government will be produced this time.