29 Dec 2017 - 4 jan 2018 #890

A stable Nepal in 2018?

But parliamentary elections under a fairly good Constitution alone will not bring about stability
Yvonne Pande

The elections to National Parliament and Federal Assemblies are expected to end a decade of political instability after the negotiated peace agreement with the insurgent Maoists in 2006 in Nepal as well as launch a successful transition to democratic polity. The election results show that that two left parties the UML and Maoists-Centre will be the major stakeholders of the government for the term of new Parliament.

Over the past two years I have interviewed political leaders across party lines about the effectiveness of power sharing to create stable politics in Nepal. Most leaders in that cohort have been involved in politics much before the insurgency, and experienced many changes in Nepal in a relatively short period of time. They have had to adjust to creating leadership through democratic processes.

In November 2005, the Maoists and the Seven Party Alliance came to the negotiating table in New Delhi for differing reasons. However, the talks themselves created an atmosphere of trust and ambition for both which meant there were inherent flaws in the three important peace initiatives: the 12-Point understanding in New Delhi, the Comprehensive Peace Accord and the Interim Constitution. These flaws influenced inter-party dynamics and pushed the subsequent peace process towards mistrust and instability.

The subsequent rise of identity groups led to the entry of new actors into the political arena, and this participation led to an increase in the demands for more inclusion. The main mechanism to include the groups was the Proportional Representation (PR) electoral system. This was a good tool to include identity groups even though it may have been tokenism. Still, there was a need to adjust the methods of PR elections, which actually had improved by the time this month’s elections were held.

The Election Commission wisely asked the parties to review their lists and submit it to the EC as a closed one, which left little space for parties to manipulate the list after results. The electorate still is not aware of the candidates in the PR list, and this may need to be streamlined – especially because the 20% invalid PR ballot papers showed it was still only a token.

The frequent changes in the ideology of the parties in the past indicate that leaders focus mainly on the current situation and short term solution especially at election time. The change of ideologies makes it difficult for the constituents to understand their goals and ambitions which is crucial for guaranteeing their accountability. The continuous change of alliances, prime ministers and opposition are indicators of the short term time horizons which makes leaders focus on the prevailing political situation, especially vis-à-vis the need for inclusiveness.

The rise in identity groups led to compromises which resulted in making more political participation possible. The Samuel Huntington Theory (1968) on political stability implies that if political participation rises, the ‘complexity, autonomy, adaptability, and coherence of society’s political institutions must also increase’.

In Nepal, political institutions created during and through the peace process have not reached the stage with which they can create political stability. The 2015 Constitution is certainly a milestone, but political parties have yet to institutionalise internal democracy, so parliamentary elections under a fairly good Constitution alone will not bring about stability.

The most important institution to sustain democracy is its electoral system. Nepal's mixed electoral system is designed in such a way that in a multiparty democracy that Nepal practices, it is almost impossible to produce a majority Legislature. The system with 60% of the Lower House are elected through the First Past the Post vote and 40% from the Proportional List, would probably best suit a two party system.

In the weeks after the elections, the losing side appears to be using constitutional loopholes to continue in power, which is a sign of weak and immature institutional arrangement. The Left Alliance had as its primary focus short term electoral dominance. After the final results the UML and Maoist Centre have started their own power calculations.

The Nepali people value political stability, and they know first-hand the cost of not having it. If the political parties know that, they should not let the people down this time.

Yvonne Pande is a graduate from TU in Conflict Peace and Development.

Read Also:

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Elections and everyday democracy, Sangita Thebe-Limbu

Fasten seat belts, Kanak Mani Dixit

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