FEDERICA RICCADONNA AND PRAWASH GAUTAM
During these months of preparation for the Constituent Assembly election scheduled for November 19 this year, many stakeholders like the Election Commission of Nepal have stated that election is not a one day event. It encompasses pre-election and post-election period. The election to the CA is supposed to help the country to exit from a transitional situation, to lead Nepal to a period of stability and durable peace.
The actual reactions to the election range from enthusiastic, almost pressing to blocking and rejecting. All the major international actors agree about the need of having an election sooner rather than later. Nevertheless, Nepal cannot exclude the political groups that do not agree about having the election and have nationalism and sovereignty as their main agenda. An agenda that sees parties that would never appear to be on the same side: CPN-M led by Mohan Baidya and the former king or ex-Panchas. This alliance sounds almost weird, among others. In the meanwhile, Federal Democratic Front (FDF) that comprises eight various parties including the UpendraYadav-led Madhesi People’s Rights Forum-Nepal (MPRF-N) which was in alliance with Mohan Baidya’s CPN-M have now reached an agreement with the High Level Political Committee (HLPC} to contest the election. These should make all reflect about their implications for the election, not only as a one day event that falls on the Toilet Day, but also in all the pre-during-post processes.
Amidst these backdrops, an important question arises – Is Nepal ready to conduct a free and fair election? The government and the major political parties are ready to postpone the election if CPN-M shows willingness to participate in the polls. Nevertheless, if the party decides not to take part in the election, it can resort to violent tactics in their attempt to disrupt the poll. While they are not strong enough to derail the electoral process, they can cause significant violence in over a dozen districts where they are comparatively strong. Sensing threats from the party and its allies, the government can respond with its own appropriate security arrangements.
Despite the fact that readiness or necessity to hold the election is not under discussion, what should be under scrutiny is democracy through election. Let us consider some related aspects in this regard. Firstly, holding election at any cost, without considering the past experience would be foolish. A general election for the Constituent Assembly was held in Nepal on April 10, 2008 after it was postponed from earlier scheduled dates of June 7, 2007 and November 22, 2007. After months of power-sharing discussions and deliberations, the-then CPN (M) Chairman Prachanda was elected as Prime Minister in August 2008. Its original tenure of two years was extended on several occasions until it was dissolved in May last year.
Secondly, the Election Commission is working on the basis of ordinances; they prepared drafts to submit to the government, since there is no constitutional provision to provide legal support for holding the CA election for the second time. Only the HLPC, comprising the senior leaders of the four major political parties, had decided to accept the decisions of the election government, the Interim Election Council of Ministers (IECM) led by Khil Raj Regmi.
Thirdly, the past experience showed that election has not been followed by a period of stability or consensus, since many issues were still controversial. This is the point – questioning election or Constitution first: which of these (or any other factor) is the basis to work on for building stability, good governance and full participation?
Fourthly, elections are not one day events, because at the same time democracy is not a one day event. Legitimization of the government counts on election and support of people, and people are not only the strongest, or the elite, but also those who do not have direct, easy access to the power machinery, that is, women, ethnic groups and those from rural region.
While the election can give a positive push to the actual impasse, looking at the past, Nepal should learn from the experience and learn what to expect. Especially in ensuring that the new Constitution is promulgated within the tenure of the CA and that it will be that common ground for all.
In conclusion, Nepal can have three scenarios:
1. Election with everybody: In this case, sufficient groundwork should be laid before the election to ensure that issues of the constitution will be settled after the election. In the past, consensus was sought only among the major parties representing the then CA on controversial issues like federalism, without going for vote in the CA.
2. Election without CPN-M and other parties currently dissenting against it in the current political circumstance: This could lead to violence during and after the election. The CA could face difficulties in settling issues of the Constitution. A high possibility of the Constitution promulgated thus to be unacceptable by these parties looms large.
3. The third possibility is No Election, and the consequences such a situation could lead to could be multifarious, and comprise a topic of another discussion.
Riccadonna and Gautam are with ASPECT