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Nepal Maoists' reversal of political fortunes

Nepalis are worried that political wrangling may delay the country's new democratic constitution.
Last modified: 29 Nov 2013 23:37

Before this election, if you had asked anyone in Nepal how the Maoist party would fare, most would have expected the ruling party to remain the largest in parliament, albeit with a reduced majority.

Coming in third - in the second Constituent Assembly election in five years - came as a shock to the Maoists, who immediately rejected the results and called for an official investigation.

The Nepali Congress party, described as "the grandfather of democracy" here, won the most seats in this week's election. The Nepal Communist Party-United Marxist-Leninist (UML) - a centrist party despite the name - finished second in the race.

In hindsight, the results should not have been all that surprising.

In the 2008 election, few had predicted that the Maoists, who had just come out of the jungle after fighting a 10-year civil war, would do as well as they did.

Emerging as the big winners in 2008, they failed to secure the two-thirds majority needed to implement fundamental reforms. After infighting between the various parties broke out, the assembly was eventually dissoved without agreeing upon a new constitution.

Many blamed the Maoists.

Another go

The new assembly is due to have another go at writing a constitution, but many here are worried that prolonged wrangling over the election results will delay the formation of a new democratic charter.

Over the past five years, the Maoists failed even their own followers.

Former Maoist fighters were not satisfied with the way that army integration took place, and the party split - a division which cost the group dearly.

News of the party leadership amassing property also did not sit well.

But the final blow came through their support for "identity-based" federalism, which would have linked new federal states to marginalised ethnic groups.

The opposition and a hostile media warned that the policy would cause ethnic strife and disintegrate the nation.

The Maoists failed to explain themselves well, and the fear of a broken Nepal caught up with them.

The Maoists' failure to deliver on their promises cost them the election.

Representing diversity

Among the most privileged city dwellers, whose lives were not as affected by the decade-long conflict, nostalgia for the "peaceful old days" delivered a significant chunk of votes for the RRP–Nepal, a right-wing party that demands the return of the monarchy and the re-establishment of the country as a Hindu state.

The Constituent Assembly comprises 240 seats voted for directly, and a further 335 decided upon by proportional representation.

Already, there have been some losses in representation for women and Dalits - the so-called Untouchables. In 2008, 30 women won seats directly.

This time round, just 10 women will take their places in the assembly.

The Nepali Congress Party did not even nominate a single Dalit candidate.

The country is waiting to see who the parties send to the assembly from its proportional representation candidates before judging how well the country's diversity is represented.

Waiting for constitution

Nepal is also waiting to see if the parties can work together to get a constitution written.

Nepali Congress and UML don't have a record of working well together, leaving many to question whether this assembly will be able to succeed where the last failed.

Will the parties adopt the 80 percent of the draft already written? And will they accommodate the dissenting parties, including the Maoists and ethnic-based parties?

Even though all the parties have expressed their commitment to federalism, there are fears that the major parties might now try to back out.

At this point, compromise seems to be the only option for Nepal's new constitution-framers.

Many Nepalis remain sceptical, saying they did not have much of a choice but to elect the same old politicians who have been around for years.

This may be the final chance for the country's political leaders to get it right.