(Editorial, Economic and Political Weekly, Dec. 7, 2013; supplied by Liberation News Service)


In what has been a surprising result, the elections for the second Constituent Assembly (CA) of Nepal, held in November 2013, have relegated the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) to the third position, well behind the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist – UML). The NC and the UML, which together dominated Nepal’s polity in the 1990s, have garnered close to a two-thirds majority in the second CA in both the first-past-the-post seats as well as the proportionally represented votes that are still being counted as we write this. The Maoists and the Madhesi parties, which had done exceedingly well in the 2008 elections, have been reduced to much smaller numbers.


The Maoists’ poor show has been surprising because they were the progenitors of the CA process in the first place and had been the leaders of the change from a monarchy to a republic. Therefore, the magnitude of defeat has stunned not just the Maoists, who have cried foul suggesting a conspiracy to rig the elections and have boycotted the election results and the remaining counting of votes, but most other observers of Nepal. While some electoral malpractices cannot be ruled out, the results appear to be a clear mandate. It would be damaging for the Maoists and the democratic process as a whole, if they remain obdurate about rejecting the electoral outcome.


The first tenure of the CA resulted in the failure to write a Constitution due to two distinct factors – the inability of the parties to govern as part of a national consensus government as the Constitution was being written and the direct polarization and division among political parties on the issue of “state restructuring”. The Maoists and Madhesis had been most vocal in support of federal restructuring, if need be on a semi-ethnic basis, while the NC and UML used every manoeuvre possible to delay and derail such an eventuality.


The results suggest one of two things: that either the Maoists and the Madhesis were unable to capitalize on the issue of restructuring or that the tide in Nepal has turned against ethnically determined federal restructuring. Both these possibilities may be likely reasons for the vote against the Maoists, though it could also be due to the perceptions that the Maoists have failed on matters of governance. Many reports in the run-up to the elections in Nepal pointed to the ordinary Nepali privileging issues relating to governance and the local economy over larger “political” issues. The concentrated discussions and negotiations on the CA process, which were restricted mostly to Kathmandu and involved intense political negotiations among leaders of the main political parties, meant that little attention was paid to the basic issues of the people.


The “high politics” of the CA process increasingly came to be seen as divisive, unruly and chaotic, and the Maoists did not stand out either in practice or in principles from the NC or the UML. Instances where the Maoists displayed a certain Machiavellian thirst for power – such as the repeated attempts by Prachanda to become prime minister in 2011 or the decision to nominate the chief justice as the caretaker prime minister (in order to keep the NC out) – did not reflect well on them. Perhaps this defeat is an outcome of the Maoists’ inability to meet the electorate’s very high expectations of them. The Nepali Maoists indeed created a perception of being trapped in the traditional politics of power and patronage as some of their leaders were seen to suddenly enjoy luxurious lifestyles in the capital. The split among the Maoists and the breakaway group’s poll boycott would also have affected their electoral prospects.


The Maoists have now signaled that they would be unwilling to participate in the CA and would prefer the Constitution to be written through an all-party consultation mechanism – a demand that was first mooted by the leader of the breakaway Maoist group, Mohan Baidya “Kiran”. This would seem odd to the electorate as the Maoists were keen champions of a popular CA in the first place, even justifying their “peoples’ war” as necessary for that purpose. The move to discredit the CA when they have lost elections would be counterproductive and weaken both them and democracy in Nepal. Rather, the Maoists should use their ability to mobilize people to ensure a progressive Constitution by foregrounding the initial drafts made by thematic committees in the first CA.


The Maoists need to evaluate their political and ideological strategy over the past five years and ponder upon why they lost the confidence of Nepal’s people. They had abandoned some of the alternative institutions and radical measures (land reforms, voluntary labor, small communes, etc) that they had evolved during the peoples’ war period and had become increasingly “statist” in their approach. This resulted in the internal split (due to other reasons as well), and their “mainstreaming”, which seems to have cost them their core support base. There is certainly enough political space for the Maoists to pursue their alternative agenda and to push for further democratization in Nepal, without having to return to insurgency. Will they learn the correct lessons from this defeat and continue to contribute to the building of a progressive Nepal? This would depend also upon the political sagacity of the NC and the UML in carrying the Maoists along with them. Nepal had blazed a radical path to democracy in the 21st century, it would be a shame if that is lost to political machinations reminiscent of 20th century politics.

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