By S. Binodkumar Singh
With less than three months left for the second Constituent Assembly (CA) Elections scheduled to be held on November 19, 2013, dilemmas about the elections still persist, with opposing parties further hardening their respective stands. The three major parties – the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) – are, moreover, themselves far from clear about their approach.
The alliance of 33-political parties led by the Mohan Baidya faction of the Communist Party Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist-Baidya), which has been agitating against the polls from the moment of the 11 point agreement between the UCPN-M, NC, CPN-UML and the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), as well as the consequent formation of the Interim Election Government in March 2013, has rejected the elections under the current dispensation. On June 13, 2013, the Interim Election Government had announced November 19, 2013, as the revised date for holding the second CA elections. On the same day, in a press conference in Kathmandu, leaders from CPN-Maoist-Baidya, the Ashok Rai-led Sanghiya Samajwadi Party (SSP), and the Upendra Yadav-led Federal Democratic Alliance (FDA) stated, “Holding an election on the basis of such a decree is akin to pushing the country towards further crisis.”
In the first formal meeting between the 33-party alliance and the High Level Political Committee (HLPC) on August 6, 2013, the 33-party alliance presented its 18-point demands, which included, inter alia, resignation of the Government under Khil Raj Regmi; withdrawal of the 25-point decree issued by the President on March 13, 2013; withdrawal of all election-related decisions; and formation of a unity government. The HLPC was constituted on March 16, 2013, by the four principal political formations, to ‘assist the government’ in resolving possible problems in the political sector. HLPC members, after a meeting on August 7, 2013, which delved into the demands floated by the 33-party alliance, and without elaboration, stated that most of the demands of the parties opposing the polls would be ‘difficult to address’, while a few of these could be fulfilled without affecting the election schedule.
On August 8, 2013, Tilak Pun, state committee coordinator of the National Youth People’s Volunteers (NYPV), the youth wing of CPN-Maoist-Baidya, warned, “We have trained youths in Dang, Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur to disrupt the poll process.” Further, on August 16, 2013, the CPN-Maoist-Baidya started a door-to-door campaign in all the 240 electoral constituencies across the country to mobilize public support against the polls. In another endorsement of the party’s stand against the polls, on August 20, 2013, General Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa asserted, “Elections held by this Government cannot be free and fair. The 11-point and 25-point agreements should be scrapped to open the way for fresh national consensus and legitimate elections.” Again, on August 23, 2013, Baidya reiterated that dissolution of the current Interim Election Government under Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi was a prerequisite for any progress, and re-stated his confidence that all problems facing the country could be resolved through a round-table conference involving all parties, including the agitating alliance led by his faction of the CPN-Maoist.
It is pertinent that the proposal for the round-table conference was first made on July 14, 2013, and there have seen several overtures from the major parties and the Government, thereafter, to bring the opposing parties on board. Talks have, however, failed to begin because of the refusal of the opposing alliance to cooperate.
Significantly, despite the coordinator of the HLPC Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda’s declared willingness to sit for ‘unconditional dialogue’ and the panel’s invitation to the 33-parties alliance on July 17, 2013, Baidya asserted, on July 22, 2013, that his party would obstruct the CA polls at any cost arguing, “We shall disrupt the CA polls as the Government and the High Level Political Committee (HLPC) have invited us for talks with conditions.” Baidya reiterated that his party would not sit for talks with the Government and the four major parties until they scrapped the 11-point agreement and articles amended in the Interim Constitution.
On an understanding that the opposing alliance was, in fact, not interested in elections and was employing tactics merely to delay and obstruct the CA polls, the HLPC, on August 23, 2013, reached a decision to move towards the elections without CPN-Maoist-Baidya, if differences were not ironed out in the immediate future. NC President Sushil Koirala observed, on August 21, 2013, that any further postponement of CA elections would invite another crisis in the country. However, articulating the continuing ambivalence of the principal political parties, he added, the next day, “It is our responsibility to bring Baidya-led CPN-M and the alliance of poll-opposing parties into election fray. We can’t even imagine Constituent Assembly polls in which CPN-M is not participating.”
The politics of some of major parties, however, is also pushing the boundaries of civilized political discourse. UCPN-M Chairperson Prachanda, addressing leaders and cadres of his party in Pokhara city, Kaski District, on August 7, 2013, declared that the Young Communist League (YCL), the youth wing of his party, would ‘chase off’ those engaged in the conspiracy to thwart the CA elections. Further, at a Press Conference in Kathmandu on August 11, 2013, Ganeshman Pun, Chairman of YCL, stated, “The 200 youths to be deployed in each (polling) booth will also work as a production team of the party as directed by the party chairman.” Likewise, the Youth Association Nepal (YAN), the sister organization of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) decided on August 16, 2013, to deploy its cadres in every polling booth during the CA elections. Endorsing the concept of ‘every booth effective youth’ at the second central meeting of YAN, which concluded on August 16, 2013, YAN Chairman Mahesh Basnet also announced the formation of male and female wings of a ‘Youth Force’ in the near future. Apprehending a threat, Election Commissioner Dolakh Bahadur Gurung, on August 18, 2013, warned, “Polling booths are not a place for making a show of strength. It is the Government’s duty to provide security for polls, not cadres of any political party.”
Meanwhile, the Election Commission (EC) continued its processes of preparing for elections. On August 22, 2013, the EC disclosed that it would distribute voter Identity Cards to the around 12.3 million voters, from among the estimated 15.4 million eligible citizens, by mid-October. Earlier, on August 1, 2013, the EC had unveiled its two-month long election schedule, according to which political parties could nominate their candidates for the November 19 polls. Till date, the EC has registered 125 political parties and has allocated election symbols to them. Altogether 139 political parties have filed applications for registration with the EC.
In a bid to ensure free and fair CA elections, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), on July 29, 2013, organized an integrated security meet of five regional administrators, chiefs of three security agencies and senior Ministry officials, at the Nepal Police Headquarters in Kathmandu and discussed challenges posed by armed outfits in the Terai region and by CPN-Maoist-Baidya.
In another positive development, the Upendra Yadav-led Sanghiya Loktantrik Madheshi Morcha (SLMM) on August 15, 2013, finally agreed to take part in the ongoing election process, following a 6-point agreement between the HLPC and SLMM. As per the 6-point agreement, the key constituents of HLPC will be increased by including SLMM and other major parties that have agreed to participate in the upcoming elections. According to the agreement, the CA will have 585 seats with 240 seats under direct electoral system and 335 seats under proportional electoral system, while 10 seats will be filled through recommendations.
Moreover, on August 21, 2013, various Madhesh-based parties who were initially against the poll process, asked their District committees to recommend at least three candidates from each constituency for the CA polls. These parties included the Rajendra Mahato-led Sadbhavana Party; Mahanth Thakur-led Tarai Madhesh Democratic Party; and Bijay Kumar Gachchhadar-led Madhesi People´s Right Forum-Democratic.
The elections for a new CA are long overdue, after the first CA was dissolved on May 27, 2012, without completing its allocated task of drafting a new constitution. While processes to ensure a successful CA election in November 2013 are now gathering pace, they continue to be threatened by the disruptive posture of some political formations, as well as by continuing and hectic negotiations between those who support and those who continue to oppose the elections.
S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management