Nepali Times
Eyes Wide Shut
Only fools rush in


The irony of Nepali politics today is that everyone knows that elections to the constituent assembly cannot be held in June. And still, no one wants to bell the cat. Girija Prasad Koirala, senior seven-party leaders, and Pushpa Kamal Dahal are known to have admitted in private that holding a credible election in three months is now nearly impossible. But publicly they still want to plough ahead, hoping someone will pull the plug at the last minute on grounds that the polls won't be credible.

To repeat why a June deadline is a folly, consider these factors:

Not enough security: The Maoists seem to have got through peace what they couldn't win through war: a license to go on a rampage all across Nepal's rural areas, towns, cities. Recent atrocities by their cadres, particularly the newly renamed militia, the Youth Communist League, has created a climate of fear and parallel policing mechanisms. Their trade unions have bulldozed through organised labour in hotels, restaurants, and student unions. Their political activities on the ground are run by diehard military members pulled out of the PLA. The state has exacerbated the situation by wilfully neglecting its prime responsibility to foster a sense of security. Policemen in the districts hardly go out on patrol, much less arrest erring Maoists. When they do act, as against recent madhesi, janajati, and civil society demonstrators, they use disproportionate force that further stokes the fires. Worse, there is no credible mechanism to monitor the civil and political space for free and secure elections. The last such body was dissolved by the myopic Comprehensive Peace Agreement without a replacement in place. How can credible elections be held when the security vacuum is filled by one of the parties contesting the elections?

No progress on inclusion: The CPA and interim constitution have blown the lid off the pent-up frustrations of over half the population. Recent attempts at addressing grievances through amendments to the constitution are a positive first move. But this is only the beginning, not the end. Many more amendments are needed if participation to the CA polls is to be made truly inclusive. All attention has been lavished on the recent two amendments on federal government and adding some constituencies in the tarai, but none on how to reduce the barriers to entry in the constituent assmebly. Anyone who still wants to contest the polls, whether madhesi, janajati, dalit, a woman, or others, must still be officially endorsed by one of the major eight parties. This erects an artificial wall around the CA, which no one else can then enter. Not exactly inclusive.

A constituent assembly with such flaws could inflict the following kinds of grave damage to the nation:

A contested result: One or more of the losing parties could reject the election results by pointing to the above-mentioned flaws. This is particularly likely if any of the four major parties-the NC, NC-D, UML, and CPN-M-receive fewer votes than they expect. The Maoists in particular could refuse to let the constituent assembly sit. An assembly so elected will have
little opportunity to carry out the critical task of constitution-making. Such an atmosphere will split the country along eight party lines, and anarchy and mayhem won't be far behind.

Ethnic separatism: An assembly elected without the free participation of major ethnic and regional groups will give rise to even more ethnic activism than we see today. And they will have a point: how can the assembly draft a long-term constitution without the free participation of more than half the population? As things stand today, the eight parties have ensured that registering new parties on ethnic, regional, linguistic, or communal grounds is almost impossible. And, as above, all candidates must be endorsed by one of the eight parties. The EPA has set itself up as the arbiters of who gets to represent Nepal's diverse communities. This could ignite ethnic separatism that will make the last Jana Andolan look like a cakewalk. The solution is to defer the polls until a time when they can be held with sufficient security and credibility. Yes, 'regressive forces' will try to capitalise on this delay. But the risk posed by them is insignificant compared with the dangers of a hurried and flawed election.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)