Nepal’s road to democracy

Elections 2013, held on November 19 after considerable delays, were overseen by an interim government led by the Supreme Court’s chief judge, Khilraj Regmi. Officials claimed a 70 percent turnout with very few incidents of violence

Nepal faced its second elections since its 240-years-old monarchy was abolished in 2006, following the 10-year revolt led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) in which more than 12,000 souls lost their lives. The previous elections, which were held on April 10, 2008, saw the Maoists elected to power in a coalition government after having won the largest number of seats in the Constituent Assembly (CA). The elections of 2013 were generally peaceful despite the fact that the movement to terminate the Hindu kingdom was bloody and murky.
The road to democracy for Nepal originated on May 28, 2008, when the newly elected assembly pronounced for the country to become a secular and inclusive democratic republic. Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, Nepal’s Maoist party leader, became the prime minister. Unfortunately, power struggles caused numerous changes of government. In May 2009, the Maoist-led coalition government was toppled, to be replaced by another coalition government, comprising all the political parties sans the Maoists. Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) assumed the mantle of prime minister. His government lasted till February 2011, after which he lost the post to Jhala Nath Khanal also of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). Jhala Nath’s government lasted only six months, replaced by Maoist Baburam Bhattarai as prime minister.
The main challenge for the democratic government was to frame a new constitution for Nepal. Subsequent governments failed to meet the deadline for drafting the new constitution. The demands for formulating a new constitution and in turn deciding upon the character and strength of the CA have been decades old. Political parties had demanded a constitution written by a CA representing all the nationalities so that their interests would serve the interests of the country. Hitherto, politics in the country was seen as dominated by class and caste. The CA had to work within the framework provided by the interim constitution, which was an amended constitution of 1990.
The Maoists faced an uphill task of rebuilding the infrastructure that had been destroyed in the decade-old civil war. Moreover, they faced severe problems with the Nepalese army. A major issue was the proposed integration of the former Maoist combatants, also known as the People’s Liberation Army, into the national security forces. Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda’s sacking of the army chief and the resulting political turmoil brought about the former’s resignation.
Elections 2013, held on November 19 after considerable delays, were overseen by an interim government led by the Supreme Court’s chief judge, Khilraj Regmi. Officials claimed a 70 percent turnout with very few incidents of violence. The Maoists canvassed hard but the people were not in the mood to bring them back to power since they had been accused by the other parties of trying to control the institutions in Nepal and moving towards their goal of one party rule, when they were in power.
Post elections, when primary results depicted the Maoists to be lagging behind other contenders, Prachanda threatened to boycott parliament if vote counting in the current ‘rigged’ elections was not immediately halted, alleging that there had been widespread fraud in the polls amounting to a ‘conspiracy’, but the election commission refused to be swayed by his threats.
On December 3, the Nepalese election commission formally announced the results of the elections to the second CA. The Nepali Congress won the most seats, followed by the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). The Maoists, who managed a measly 26 seats, and initially threatened to withdraw from the CA, were later convinced by other political leaders to accept the people’s verdict and get involved in the process of a peaceful CA. Prachanda too, after self-analysis, realised that the cause of his party’s defeat was not the alleged vote rigging but “misrepresentation of the party on the issue of federalism and the party’s split”. On December 25, 2013, the Maoists offered unconditional support to the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party (Unified Marxist-Leninists) to form the next government.
The prime responsibility of the new government will be to write the new constitution, a task the previous regimes had failed to achieve. It is noteworthy that the election manifesto of all the political parties had focused on the economy, development, role of government and other social issues, empowerment of marginalised societies, and not on the type of constitution. In January 2013, the UN had observed that high level political stagnation was causing the “slow but persistent deterioration of democratic institutions and effective governance”. This time around, the coalition government will be constrained to give top priority to building democratic foundations for the erstwhile mountain kingdom, starting with formulating and promulgating a new constitution based on federalism, republicanism, secularism, national economic transformation and empowerment of the people.

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Aaj Kal