Political transition : So far, so good

Vote counting continues. The Constituent Assembly poll results for 239 seats under First-Past-the Post system are coming thick and fast, establishing a clear lead for the Maoists. Since polling for one seat was postponed due to the assassination of a CPN-UML candidate on the eve of the election, the final outcome on all 240 seats may yet take a few more days. It may take another few days to finalise the rest of the 335 seats under Proportional Representation system.

With the long waited, but most needed, and, in the end, well participated election, a significant phase of the peace process has ended satisfactorily — and this, despite routine flouting of the electoral code of conduct. Amidst vote continuing, the promptness with which cancellation of polling and re-polling dates were announced has broken all previous records in Nepal’s electoral history. The Election Commission (EC) has announced re-polling dates in around 100 places in 21 constituencies spread over 12 districts.

But equally important phases of the peace process remain — framing of a new constitution and holding of parliamentary elections according to the new statute. However, other important issues, like integration of the People’s Liberation Army, resettlement

and rehabilitation of those displaced during the Maoist insurgency, return of property to the victims and disclosure of the status of those ‘disappeared’ in course of the violent conflict too will engage the attention of the government formed after announcement of the final Constituent Assembly election results.

How the Maoists handle the power they acquire through ballots and carry out the responsibility subsequently bestowed upon them will determine the success of the peace process and Nepal’s transition into democracy. On the one hand, the Maoists will have to satisfy their cadres’ reasonable aspirations and on the other, persuade other political stakeholders and international community to lend their cooperation and active participation that will be vital for ensuring sustainable peace, achieving economic development goals and running day to day governance.

This will be a difficult balancing act. And although the interim constitution provides some guidelines for the formation of the government, special attention should also go towards smooth running of the political and peace processes as there is little time for detailed planning.

Election is not a new phenomenon for the people of Nepal as they have been casting votes since 1959 when the first parliamentary election was conducted in Nepal. It has continued, of course, with some intervals and in different guises under different forms of governments. However, new voters, who number in millions, have cast their votes for the very first time

while others have voted after the long gap of nine years. (The House of Representatives, the Lower House of Parliament, was dissolved in 2002 cutting short its full tenure by two years.)

Interestingly, different modes of balloting have been brought into use in the past elections. During the party less Panchayat system lasting for nearly three decades (1960 to 1990), there was the system of “one ballot with two votes”. But like the 1959 parliamentary election, in the post 1990 era, there was “one ballot one vote” pattern, while in the April 10 Constituent Assembly election was based on the system of “two ballots two votes”.

Likewise, there have been different types of voter participation in successive elections. Under the autocratic Panchayat system, there were no party candidates as political parties were banned from contesting the elections. In the post 1990 era, voters were not permitted to cast their votes in some areas as booths were captured by goons deployed by the candidates in the typical Bihari style election-time politics.

Significantly, the Bihari style was denounced by Maoist leaders time and again. But the observers were amused at the apparent adoption of some form of Bengali style (West Bengal is also a province of India) in which candidates are either debarred from running electoral campaigns freely in their constituencies or not allowed to keep their polling agents at the voting booths, thereby spiking the prospects of opposing candidates.

The mandate of Constituent Assembly election appears to have turned the tables in favour of the Maoists throughout the length and breadth of the country. During the insurgency, the Maoists used to claim control over 80 per cent of rural areas, whereas, now, they surprisingly may have control over the whole country by winning substantial number of seats in the Constituent Assembly. The outcome has, indeed, carved out a vital role for the Maoists in rebuilding Nepal and restructuring its political system.

Prof Mishra is ex-election commissioner