By Fakir Mohan Pradhan
People generally believed that the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) would be weakened electorally due to the split in the party in June 2012, but no one predicted a rout. After the announcement of results of most of the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system seats, UCPN-M is all set to be the sore loser in the just concluded elections for the second Constituent Assembly (CA) in Nepal. The final results are, of course, yet to be announced, but the trends are already clear, and the available results put UCPN-M in a distant third position, behind the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML).
Results have already been announced for all 240 FPTP seats, with NC bagging 105 seats, followed by CPN-UML with 91 seats. UCPN-M stood at a poor third, with just 26 seats. The polls witnessed an unexpectedly high voter turnout with nearly 70 per cent of more than 12 million registered voters casting their votes.
The Madhesi parties also did rather badly, with Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Democratic (MJF-D) securing just four seats; Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party (TMLP) another four; and Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Nepal (MJF-N), two. Counting for the Proportional Representation (PR) system seats is currently underway, with more than half the total votes yet to be counted, but it is unlikely that UCPN-M will make a particularly strong show here, though an authoritative projection is difficult at the present stage. Significantly, UCPN-M Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda, himself lost the Kathmandu-10 seat, which he had won with a high margin in the previous CA election. Prachanda did, however, manage a barely face-saving victory from the Siraha-5 constituency, with a slender margin of just 900 votes over his nearest CPN-UML rival. In 2008, Prachanda had taken the Kathmandu-10 seat with nearly twice the number of votes of his nearest NC rival.
Significantly, the UCPN was the largest single party in the previous (2008) CA, with 120 FPTP, 100 PR and nine nominated seats, a total of 229 in a 601 strong CA; its nearest rival, NC, had just 115 seats, and the UCPN, 108.
The current CA elections could be organised only after many hiccups and delays, on November 19, after the first CA had failed to draft a new Constitution for Nepal. The second CA is also to have 601 members, out of which 240 members are to be decided by the FPTP system, 335 by the PR system, and the remaining 26 are to be nominated.
Earlier, the Mohan Baiday-led Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist), which had threatened to disrupt the polls, announced a 10-day transport strike and general shutdown across the country, beginning November 11. The party did manage to disrupt transport services for a majority of the strike days in many parts of the country, but there was little violence, particularly in view of the far greater apprehensions, with just one fatality – a truck driver in Kathmandu in a petrol bomb attack. Another boy lost his hand when he unknowingly opened a bag containing explosives. On polling day, however, people came out to vote in large numbers. Significantly, the Army was deployed for the first time to ensure security during the polls. At the end of the strike, Baidya had nothing to show, other than the claim that the election had been held by “misusing all state powers”, and would not deliver a new constitution. He insisted that only dialogue among political forces and a national political consensus could bail the country out of its current problems.
There was little disruption or violence, other than sporadic and minor incidents, during the voting process, but the political problem started as soon as Prachanda’s results and the broad trend demonstrating the UCPN-M’s rout came to be known. While no such claims had been made during the course or immediate aftermath of polling, the UCPN-M began to question the integrity of the process after its defeat was apparent. The party alleged that ballot boxes were ‘changed midway’ while being transported from the polling booths to the counting centres. On November 21, Prachanda threatened, “We will not accept any irregularities and conspiracy to subvert the will of the people. We will start a people’s movement against this subversion… If the counting is not stopped immediately, we will not associate ourselves with the electoral process and will stay away from the new Constituent Assembly. Let the Election Commission (EC) and the political parties take this seriously.”
Unfortunately for the UCPN-M, however, the EC as well as international observers – including Jimmy Carter – have vouched that the polls were both free and fair poll. The EC naturally rejected the demand for suspending counting, and advised that any ‘aggrieved party’ could approach the Supreme Court if there were any irregularities in the polls. On November 24, a meeting held between UCPN-M Chairman Prachanda and leaders of other losing parties, including the Madhesi People´s Rights Forum-Nepal (MPRF-N) Chairman Upendra Yadav and Federal Socialist Party (FSP) Chairman Ashok Rai, decided to hold talks with EC officials over the “irregularities.”
The election result is, of course, a stinging rejection by the people of the disruptive, intimidatory and violent politics of the Maoist formations in Nepal. The humiliating electoral loss, however, has revived the spectre of an intractable impasse, and a possible revival of violence, that the elections had been intended to resolve. Raising acute apprehensions, Prachanda held an informal meeting with CPN-Maoist leader Mohan Baidya on November 24, along with other leaders including UCPN-M’s Baburam Bhattarai, and General Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa and leader Dev Gurung of the CPN-Maoist. Baidya is reported to have advised Prachanda to stay away from the CA.
Utterly marginalized by the electoral outcome, UCPN-M leaders are now of the opinion that the party must stay away from the Government and CA, and should unconditionally reject the poll verdict, demanding a thorough investigation of alleged irregularities. Encouragingly, however, the Party’s ideologue and former Prime Minister, Baburam Bhattarai, on November 23, hinted at continuing the commitment to peaceful resolution of issues, despite the poor showing in the election, declaring: “We will continue to use such legitimate body (CA), as the agendas raised by our Party are still at the centre of national politics.”
As for the Mohan Baidya-led CPN-Maoist, the road ahead looks bleak as the party lost whatever limited sympathy it had by attempting to disrupt the polls. Worse, the elections exposed the party’s bluff , in seeking to defer polls indefinitely, in an effort to bring the group to the centre-stage of Nepal’s political structure, just as the undivided CPN-Maoist had done under Prachanda’s leadership in the run-up to the first CA election. This strategy has, of course, now gone haywire, and the group can only hope to salvage a modicum of relevance by uniting with the UCPN-M.
The outlook is rather bleak for the Madhesi parties as well. These groups had emerged as a potent political force after the First CA election, but lost the plot after split into nearly 30 disparate and quarrelsome parties. Unsurprisingly, many of them have failed to win even a single seat, and even the strongest among them has failed to secure more than five seats in the FPTP system.
While the election results are a resounding popular endorsement of democracy in Nepal, it appears that the outcome will do little to end the crisis that had preceded the polling process. NC and CPN-UML, of course, have a history of uncomfortable cooperation, and Government formation will not face any insurmountable problems. However, if the UCPN-M and CPN-Maoist and even the minor Madhesi groupings – choose to stay away from the drafting of the Constitution, this process would lack the legitimacy and consensual basis that it needs for a stable and sustainable outcome. Further, a substratum of radical elements, committed to the restoration of the Maoist ‘revolution’ continues to exist within the Maoist formations. Any protracted crisis or confrontational politics by the electoral victors will encourage at least some among these to return to the violence that they are far more familiar with and adept at.
The second CA elections were underpinned by the hope and expectations that the uncertainties of the first CA would be brought to an end with a clearer mandate. Unfortunately, the very clarity of the current mandate has exacerbated uncertainties even further.
Fakir Mohan Pradhan
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management