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#4182, 19 November 2013

Nepal Elections 2013

Forecasting the Power Composition
Pramod Jaiswal
SAARC Doctorate Fellow, Centre for South Asian Studies, JNU

Nepal is once again voting for the second Constituent Assembly (CA) election on 19 November 2013. The CA dissolution caused severe deadlocks in Nepalese politics. Ultimately, all the major political parties agreed to have elections by appointing Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi as chairman of the interim government. The appointment itself caused a major hindrance - the splinter group of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal, Maoist (UCPN–Maoist) and other fringe parties were led to boycott/disrupt the CA–II election, irrespective of whether the threat was real or imagined. The modalities of CA–II election remain the same as CA–I (such as mixed electoral system where 240 CA members will be elected through first-past-the-post, 335 members will be elected through proportional representation and 26 members will be appointed).

Unlike the previous CA election, the CA–II is for both the Constituent Assembly and the Parliament. Thus, the manifestos of all the political parties in this CA election deal with development agendas along with constitutional issues. The number of political parties participating in this election has more than doubled from the previous election. In spite of this, this election has not been able to arouse much enthusiasm among the voters, which is confirmed by the reduction of voters by nearly 30 per cent since the last election.

There is still serious doubt about whether CA–II would be able to deliver the constitution. To address this doubt, political parties have promised to attempt to forge a consensus on all constitutional issues in the first six months, and go for either voting or referendum on other unresolved issues. The two major contentious issues that led to the failure of the CA-I were federalism and forms of government. There was some sort of agreement on the forms of government but none on federalism. Thus, CA-II is dominated by federalism issues. The slogan of the UCPN-Maoists is (to have a) ‘Constitution with identity based Federalism’.  Other parties are also discussing their model of federalism in this election. While for forms of government, there are three major ideas: directly elected president, ceremonial president and executive prime minister, and shared power between president and prime minister. 

It is expected that the power composition of CA-II would be similar to CA–I. According to political analysts, like the previous election, UCPN-Maoists might remain on top but the number of seats might fall as the party has suffered a split with one-third of their leaders joining CPN-Maoists (Baidya faction). They might also have to face a setback due to the anti-incumbency factor as they were not able to deliver and forge consensus on many issues when they were in power twice. UCPN-Maoists might try to compensate these losses from Madhes as their organisational base has increased. Though UCPN-Maoists might not do well in FPTP, but they might gain in the PR seats. Prachanda’s strategy would be to form alliances with all the political forces that support identity-based federalism, and garner two-third majority so that they can form the government and also get their form of federalism passed in the constitution. It is expected that Nepali Congress (NC) will improve and the gap between the first and second party will be narrowed. The major pull away factor for NC is perceived to be the lack of strong and clear leadership like Girija Prasad Koirala’s. NC’s strategy would be consolidating its support in Madhes and gather more seats in FPTP. The Communist Party of Nepal–Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) faces a challenging task as all the influential Janajati and Madhesi leaders have left the party. All ideas of CPN-UML are perceived to be negotiable and the party is to haveno clear stand on any of the broader issues.

Madhesi parties are highly fragmented; the four initial Madhesi parties have fragmented into 30. Since Madhesh has high population density, is easy to campaign in, and due the level of fragmentation, all political parties are eyeing Madhes. Out of 30 Madhesi parties, only Tarai Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP, Madhesi People’s Rights Forum–Nepal (MPRF-N), Madhesi People’s Rights Forum–Democratic (MPRF-D), Sadbhawana Party (SP) and National Madhes Socialist Party (NMSP) would be able to get some seats in FPTP. Caste politics is strong in Madhes. This would be advantageous to Bijay Gachhedar (Tharu – seven per cent) and Upendra Yadav (Yadav – four per cent). Teli, Suri, Kalwar, Halwai, Baniya and other OBC in Madhes would vote according to their allegiances. Though Madhesi parties would not be able to win many seats in FPTP from Madhes, only Madhesi leaders from all other parties (namely UCPN-Maoists, NC and CPN-UML) would be able to win from Madhes. There is speculation that Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and RPP-Nepal led by Kamal Thapa and Pasupath Shamser Rana respectively might gain a few seats in PR.

If a different power composition emerges from CA-II, it might complicate and delay the constitution-making process as the new forces might start re-negotiating on previously resolved issues. It is also necessary for the top leaders of all major parties to win the CA-II so that the constitution-making process is smooth. As promised, they should go for voting or referendum on the contentious issues if they are not resolved within six months.

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