Poll postponement : NC and Maoist intransigence scuttled it

The hopes of the Nepali people for a bright future have been shattered by the decision of the government to once more postpone the constituent assembly (CA) elections. A great uncertainty prevails in the country as there is no guarantee that a compromise between the coalition partners could be reached as long as the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist and the Nepali Congress hold their views as sacrosanct. The reason for the failure of negotiations which led to the unfortunate decision to postpone the election has been the adamant stance of the negotiating political parties, particularly the Nepali Congress and the Maoists, and their inflexibility towards each other’s demands.

The Maoists proposed full proportional representation and declaration of a republic before the elections for creating the ‘congenial conditions’ for the CA election. They were also demanding that the same elections should be held on a completely proportional basis. Both of the Maoist proposals were summarily rejected by the Nepali Congress on the grounds that during the adoption of the Interim Constitution the Maoists had agreed to decide on the future of monarchy through the first meeting of the elected constituent assembly and also to elect members of it by a mixed electoral system.

Thinking about the problem with a non-partisan eye and pragmatically too,it cannot be denied that it is not right to keep changing one’s opinion and going back on one’s earlier stands. However, it must be remembered that the issues being reconsidered were of vital importance and deserved to be resolved without affecting the election schedule.

The Maoist insistence that both of their main demands should be accepted and

the refusal of the Nepali Congress to consider the Maoists’ demands had left no room for the settlement of the dispute. If both parties continue to stick to the same line, the issue of the election of the CA would remain in a limbo. The worry of the masses is based on such assumptions and it creates a lot of confusion and conflict among them. The public is uncertain about when the polls would be held.

The general opinion of the people is that the unwise decision to postpone the election could have been avoided if both the sides had shown some flexibility. The reason for their inflexibility is unknown and remains a matter of wild conjecture yet the decision to postpone the election has to be blamed solely on the Nepali Congress and the CPN- Maoists.

Let us look into the merits of the twin demands made by the Maoists. The first demand was to abolish monarchy forthwith, the reason being, in the view of the Maoists, that fair and free polls were not possible under a monarchy. However, they could not forward any valid reason to support their apprehension. They also did not care to scrutinise the legitimacy of their proposal.

They could have provided proof of the King’s involvement or activity that was

directed against the poll preparation and taken measures for the removal of the monarchy through constitutional means. Otherwise, an arbitrary decision of the seven party alliance towards the same goal would again raise the question of legitimacy. The Maoists should have accepted that the sovereignty can only be exercised by the people directly through a referendum or indirectly through their elected representatives. So their insistence on immediate results would lack legitimacy and thus open a vista for new conflicts.

The issue of elections through complete proportional representation is a different thing. The reluctance of the Nepali Congress to concede this demand was unwise and a purely partisan move. The demand for a single electoral system of proportional representation is not only the demand of the Maoists or the CPN-UML. Indigenous and ethnic groups as well as Dalits and Madhesis have been insisting on the same need. So the Nepali Congress should have shown more flexibility in the general interest of the people. Such inflexibility shown by the Nepali Congress and CPN-Maoist leaves people no option but to heap all the blame for the postponement squarely on the shoulders of the two parties.

The Congress has to take even more of the blame because had the party agreed upon a single electoral system and pressed for a legitimate way to decide on monarchy, the Maoists would have been left with no option but to compromise on the issue. And had such a settlement been made, polls could have taken place on the prescribed date. This would barely have entailed a little more effort on the part of the interim parliament followed by a little hard work by the Election Commission.

The people are fast losing confidence in the government and they are begging the political parties to reschedule the CA elections and hold these no later than 2007-end.

Upadhyay is ex-foreign minister