Originally Published 2013-06-17 00:00:00 Published on Jun 17, 2013
With the elections date to the Nepal Constituent Assembly now being announced, it is time for all political actors to unite for the larger cause. The poll announcement should be the beginning of a new rapprochement between the parties.
Nepal: With CA polls on Nov 19, it is time for all political actors to unite for large cause
After three months of intense discussion with political stakeholders, Nepal?s Interim Election Council has finally announced November 19 as the date for holding elections to the new constituent assembly (CA). This is a welcome development. But the real challenge before the Khil Raj Regmi government will now be to bring on board the dissenting voices that have been opposing polls and seeking his resignation.

The announcement on the election date was made after a cabinet meeting on June 13. The decision came after the government and the High Level Political Committee (HLPC) realised that they could no longer defer the polls as people were losing both patience and confidence in the political actors and the bureaucracy-led government.

The announcement has brought about a huge relief to the public and given a new ray of hope for the Nepali people. The political atmosphere in Nepal was very murky since the dissolution of the CA in May 2012. The rising instability and bickering amongst the major parties had left the people disappointed. There were serious doubts regarding the constitution making process.

The decision is thus a step in the right direction. There has been some remarkable breakthrough in a number of election-related issues. The size of the previous jumbo 601-member strong CA has rightly been reduced to a more manageable 491, in line with popular expectations. The government has also done the right thing by removing the proposed PR (proportional representation) threshold, as it would have barred members of minority communities of their rightful place in the new CA. The Election Commission had earlier proposed that a political party must secure 1.5 per cent of the total valid vote cast in the election in order to claim seat allocations under proportional representation system. The constitutional body later reduced the figure to one per cent following objections by fringe parties. This was dropped on June 13.

The Council has also made some compromises in order to accommodate the desires of some major parties. The government decision to keep only those prospective candidates who have been convicted in a court of law away from election fray, rather than restricting all those facing criminal charges from conflict-era, was to accommodate the United CPN (Maoist). Barring all those who are facing criminal charges would have been especially hard on United CPN (Maoist), and could have hurt its poll prospects.

Till the government?s announcement, scepticism was high about the actual intent of the Chief Justice-led government and its chief backers in the HLPC. A good number of people in Nepal believed that none of the major political parties were prepared to go for polls and that they would try to delay election until the situation turned favourable to them. The new announcement thus also show that the big four political parties represented in the HLPC - the United CPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha -- might now have come to genuinely believe that its election prospects are brightening. There was also mounting pressure from the public, media, civil society and also from the international community, which could not be overlooked.

Now the most important challenge before both the government as well as the HLPC is to bring on board the dissenting forces that have been opposing the Regmi government. The biggest opposition to Regmi is by the Mohan Baidya-led CPN-Maoist, which continues to stick to its demand of resignation of the CJ-led government and its replacement with a political government. But besides Baidya, there should not be any real difficulty in reaching out to other dissenting forces like the Ashok Rai-led Federal Socialist Party Nepal and Upendra Yadav-led Federal Democratic Forum. The government must initiate talks even with Baidya faction and convince them that the poll is in the long-term interest of the country for securing democratic grounds. There is no reason why Baidya should be adamant over his position as there is no option to polls in Nepal.

A fresh mandate is required to complete the constitution writing at the earliest. Precious time has been lost since 2006, the year Nepal witnessed the historic Jana Andolan II and the Maoists joined the mainstream politics. National objectives could not be obtained as parties engaged in power struggle and inter and intra-party rivalries surfaced. While the largest political party, the United CPN (Maoist), faced a vertical split when Baidya-led hardliners walked out during this period, other political parties suffered loss of credibility and demonstrated immaturity in handling the political situations. The non-compromising position of opposition Nepali Congress too contributed to severe loss. This is a time when all political actors in Nepal must unite for the larger cause. The poll announcement should be the beginning of a new rapprochement between the parties.

Needless to add, the government must ensure free and fair election. The entire exercise will be fruitless if political cadres are allowed to disrupt poll activities and use intimidation. Many reports surfaced about the Maoist violent tactics and intimidation to win polls during the last CA elections on 10 April, 2008. This time the government must ensure violence-free fair polls by making adequate security arrangements. The Nepali security agencies are well-equipped and well-trained to guarantee this. In addition, the Election Commission will have to be empowered. UN observers too could be invited to ensure this.

The international community, especially India, which is the closest neighbour of Nepal, must help in every possible way to make the elections successful. India must give logistical support to Nepal and maintain harmony in the border areas. Since Nepal and India share open border, the criminal activities run high in the border areas during election time in both the sides. This must be checked and brought under control. India has done the right thing so far in pushing the Nepali leaders to hold early polls, it should now give all-out support to this process till its completion. India can also help by persuading the dissenting forces in Nepal to participate in the upcoming polls.

(The author is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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