Inexplicable Results - Constituent Assembly Elections

Keshab Poudel
Spotlight Newsmagazine
VOL. 27, NO. 31, April 18, 2008 (Baishakh 06 2065 B.S.)

"Wining majority from out of 240 seats allotted for first-past -post system, the CPN-Maoist, which is yet to receive global recognition as a mainstream party, has turned Nepal, a back water of world's largest democratic country, into a red field. Although the counting of votes for another 335 seats allotted for the proportional representative system is yet to complete, it is almost certain that CPN-Maoist is going to emerge as the single largest party in the Constituent Assembly Elections 2008. The result is inexplicable but CPN-Maoist, a party which fought a decade long violent insurgency – got the mandate in an election which international observers described as free and fair. In a country where a minority government of CPN-UML collapsed in nine months, how long another government led by a radical Maoist will be watched with great interest"

"The results of the present election were unexpected. We had not imagined that our party will win such a large number of seats," said CPN-Maoist leader Dr. Baburam Bhattarai to The Kathmandu Post.

"This result surprised us as our candidates have suffered badly," said CPN-UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, who resigned just a few days back following the election results.

"How the Maoists won the election in so many places is surprising," said Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba, after his victory in two constituencies in far western districts.

Prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who was congratulated by international observers including former American president Jimmy Carter, too, is shocked by the results. "I didn't imagine that our party will be rooted out in such a manner. Just wait for few more days before deciding to quit the government," prime minister Koirala told his colleagues who had gone to meet him at his residence in Baluwatar on Monday.

Not only the top leaders, common people in the streets, too, are very surprised to see the outcome. This is the reason there is no jubilation and happiness despite the wave of victory in favor of the Maoists and there is no spontaneous support and jubilant mass of the people. The only persons participating in the election rallies are the party cadres.

Constitutional Provisions
With the elections to the Constituent Assembly accomplished, the focus of political debate in Nepal has at once shifted from the electoral issues to the issues involving formation of a new government according to the fresh mandate.

"But in the absence of a clear direction under the Constitution, which suffers from many deliberate lacunas and caveats, a very constitutional process is about to be handled in a very controversial way. It is giving the impression that even after housing 601 assemblymen, freshly elected and nominated, the culture of ad hocism does not intend to disappear," said Dr Bipin Adhikari, lawyer and constitutional analyst.

According to Article 38(1) of the Interim Constitution, the Prime Minister is to be appointed on the basis of political consensus. "There is no provision in the Constitution as to who should initiate the process; how it should be done; and whether there are standards of conduct to get it done. Political consensus is the rule even if there is a majority party in the House. Although the Council of Ministers is to be formed under the Prime Minister's chairmanship, the Council itself is to be the product of political consensus. In this jurisprudence of consensus, the difference between those who have more popular support, and those who have barely survived, is not constitutionally recognized. So, essentially, a majority Prime Minister has no majoritarian power, even if that means disregard to the voters, and the fresh mandate the voters have conferred on the Prime Minister," said Dr. Adhikari.

The Constitution clearly states that if consensus cannot be reached as above, the Prime Minister shall be elected by a majority of two-thirds of the members of the Constituent Assembly. Even if this provision is rationalised as a stimulant towards consensual process of constitution making, it does not stand out as an acceptable rule of law.

According to Dr. Adhikari, a unicameral house of 601 person is a very loud arrangement. It is impracticable also because the interim Constitution has not provided any mini-legislature within the Constituent Assembly to work on legislative and policy issues so that these jobs are done professionally, and through a deliberative process. It is too much for all 601 assembly men to work in the Constituent Assembly as legislators, and in a meaningful way.

The present result of first-past-post system is just one of the forms decided to elect the members for Constituent Assembly as there is just 240 seats allotted under this system. According to article 63 of the Interim Constitution, the constituent assembly consists of 601 members. Under the proportional representation system there will be 335 members, 240 under the first-past-post system and 26 are nominated on the recommendation of the cabinet.

For the purpose of this constitution "political consensus" means the political consensus reached between the seven political parties- Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (UML), Janmoracha Nepal, Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandadevi), Nepal Majdur Kishan Party, Samyukta Janmorcha and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

After 1995 when CPN-UML formed a government as a single largest party, this is first time in the history of Nepal when communist party with radical ideology has won such a large seats in the election held under the observation of more than one thousand observers led by former US president Jimmy Carter and United Nations Mission to Nepal.

Despite monitoring by international observers, the election was full of violence and threats. From daughter of prime minister Koirala, Sujata Koirala to many other NC leaders who lost the elections lost due to intimidation and threat.

Even many goons came from across the border to terrorize the voters of Sujata Koirala in her constituency 3 of Sunsari. One of Sujata's workers died in cross firing in the bordering polling booth.

"Don't ask me about election. I cried for help from all sides. I did not receive any support. EC was one sided and administration was not concerned about mass rigging," said Koirala.

Though Nepali voters are hailed as a peaceful and conscious voters, Nepalese have tendencies to back one extreme to another without knowing its fall out. When King dissolved the elected parliament in 2002, people welcomed it by lighting the lamps. In similar way, people welcomed the move of February 1,2006 action of the King. They welcomed the interim government led by Koirala and all its actions without any resentment. In the election, they voted radical communist outfit to power without knowing its implications on their life like in CPN-UML in 1992 elections.

Reasons Behind Election Debacle
Several reasons work for the debacle of two parties. One of the main reasons of debacle of Nepali Congress and CPN-UML is their long negative list. Those who had negative views against those two parties voted Maoists as a next choice.

The second important reason was that voters decided to give a chance to fresh players. At a time when there is no plus point in favor of CPN-UML and Nepali Congress –which followed the Maoist line - people saw the Maoists as better alternative.

Nepali Congress has lost a big monarchist vote bank and people disliked CPN-UML because of its feeble stands on political issues. CPN-UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal- who was also a member of constitution drafting committee in 1990, proved to be inconsistent.

Along with others, CPN-UML also gave up its stand on nationalism. CPN-UML was completely silent over the citizenship Act, water resources treaty and other such sentimental issues. Except anti-monarchy posturing, nothing was left to Nepali Congress and CPN-UML to compete with Maoists. However, the Maoists established itself as an anti-monarchical force long before them. At the last minute, Maoist even issued statement urging Royalist to vote for them.

People have seen Nepali Congress and CPN-UML's role in the government turn by turn. However, among three players, Maoists were untested. This also prompted voters to vote for Maoists.

Other major reason for Maoist victory is deep rooted fear psychology. Rural people decided not to take the risk of voting other parties. When there was a wide spread rumor in the rural areas about Maoist threat and intimidation, no one could dare to risk their life by not voting the Maoists.

Even in his last leg of political campaign, CPN-Maoist leader Prachanda urged his cadres to behave as Gandhiji for seven days. That means they would continue to use drastic methods after the election.

"One of the main reasons behind our devastation is our failure to convince the rural voters that they will be safe after the election for CA," said senior CPN-UML leader Pradeep Nepal.

In an indication of how the Maoists would behave in coming days, on Monday (April 14) Maoists attacked finance minister Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat and his convoy when he was on his way home after winning election in Nuwakot

Because of guarantee of security in urban areas and presence of huge international observers, the population in urban areas did not feel any threat. However, the situation in rural Nepal was very difficult. By winning from a constituency in Rautahat district, a wanted man Babban Singh showed how threat works in rural areas.

The role of unseen power was the most significant to notice. "Maoists have been used for first phase of destabilization in Nepal from 1996-2007 by this unseen power. Now, Maoists can be used for second phase of operation in Nepal to have upper hand in Nepal security," said a political analyst.

International Response
International response to the Maoist victory is positive now. India which has backed Maoists and seven party alliance since November 2006 permitting them to ink the 12 point agreement in New Delhi has already expressed satisfaction. From Indian point of view, this is a great success as they have covertly backed parties and Maoist up to the present point.

Indian ambassador to Nepal Shiv Shanker Mukherjee has already met Maoist leader Prachanda and congratulated him for the success of his party in the election. " India has taken the Maoist victory in constituent assembly elections in Nepal as a positive development," said Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee. "We support the Maoist victory in the April 10 Constituent Assembly election in Nepal and view it as a positive development. The Maoists have successfully taken part in the democratic process. It will now be easier to India to work with the democratically elected government of Nepal."

The United States - which still tags Maoists in its terrorist watch list – has mumbled few words of congratulations for conducting election. For Europeans, they were in constant touch with the Maoist leadership.

Nepal's other neighbor China also expressed satisfaction over the way the constituent assembly election was held.

Lessons For Nepali Congress
Nepali Congress legendary leader B.P. Koirala often said that Nepali Congress has no utility if it gives up the policy of national reconciliation. "If we give up national reconciliation, which is based on nationalism and democracy, our role will diminish. We must understand that we will lose our identity in case we give up national reconciliation," said Koirala in his book King, Nationalism and Politics (Raja, Rastriyata and Rajniti).

"National unity cannot be achieved in vacuum. Which means that the people factor and the monarchy must combine, that there must be total understanding between these two elements of national life. The alternative to this is ruin. That is what I feel and, therefore, I do not contemplate any alternative to this," said B.P. Koirala in his interview to Bhola Chatterji, an Indian journalist in 1979.

However, joining hands with extremists and following their ideology, Nepali Congress has badly suffered in the election. Although he is regarded as a hero by international community, prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala is completely a loser at his end of political carrier. He pushed Nepali Congress from largest party with majority to nowhere.

Challenges For Newly Elected body
The greatest challenge for the elected representatives of the people is to realize their responsibility as trustee of the people – the sovereign. "In no way, this elected body would be under a bondage to follow the diktat of the dubious power centers of the party or elsewhere. Though it was an avoidable game of populism, the CA is a reality. It will have to take up every issue in the constitution making in accordance with the fresh mandate of the people. It is under no compulsion to endorse the ruling or decisions of the previous nominated house of legislators," said the analyst. "The greatest challenge to Nepal at present is a question of survival as a truly independent, democratic and prosperous nation."

"We will bring peace, stability and prosperity to the people. We will work to protect our independence and sovereignty," said Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda in his victory rally.

While taking about these consensus issues, national unity is the first and foremost task ahead. "It requires a caliber in the leadership, a long term vision and accommodative attitude. People of Nepal have always been supportive of the political ideals of broadest unity between different sections of the people. B.P. Koirala is all the time remembered by different ideological groups of Nepal mainly because of his politics of reconciliation based upon a long term vision," said the political analyst.

Issue of Monarchy
Although article 159(2) of the interim constitution declares that the implementation of transition to republic shall be made at the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly, the parties are yet to make new decision on it. The newly elected body has to discuss over the utility of institution of monarchy in its first session. Since time immemorial, it has been the most significant continuity from the past. The newly elected body has to balance the pros and cons of its utility and legislate about its fate.

"This legislative body is not going to be a rubber stamp of any past decision. As it represents the sovereignty of the people with its fresh mandate, it cannot remain under duress from the seen and unseen centers of powers or irrational decisions of the past," said the analyst. "As it is going to consider things in a long term perspective, it has to evaluate the role of traditional institution maintaining traditional faith of the people as a stabling factor."

The election results showed that it was neither about the king against the people or upper cast Vs lower cast or Madhes Vs Pahad. Many members who actively took part in King's direct rule have won the election and some of them are contesting the election through proportional representation. Former regional administrator under King's direct rule Mrigendra Kumar Singh Yadav and former assistant minister under his direct rule Govinda Chaudhari won the election as candidates of Terai Madhesh Loktantrick Party and Bijaya Kumar Gachhedar - who was reportedly soft about King's direct rule - also secured victory from two constituencies in the election as a candidate of MJF.

Many people of hilly origin won seats from Madhesh contesting as candidates of major parties Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist. They won seats in all 22 districts of plain, which Madhesi parties wanted as a separate federal state. In some districts like Bardiya, Kailali, Kanchapur, Jhapa, andUdayapur, these parties swept the polls.

Similarly, many republicans including CPN-UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, Home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula and Dr. Shekhar Koirala, Mahesh Acharya also lost the elections. Republican leader Narahari Acharya won the election but at the cost of Nepali Congress which was virtually uprooted in many places.

The Pandora's Box of Constituent Assembly is now reality for Nepal and the country needs a sobriety in the decision making process on the part of the legislators as well as the political parties.

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