Defeated,not subduedhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/defeated-not-subdued/

Defeated,not subdued

Despite electoral rout,Maoists are trying to wrest control of governance.

Despite electoral rout,Maoists are trying to wrest control of governance.

It is too early to predict if the election to the Constituent Assembly (CA) will offer a solution to Nepal’s political mess. But the early symptoms are alarming. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M),relegated to a distant third,appears confused and divided over whether to participate in the new House. It’s now poised to lead an alliance of losers on the common plea that the “elections were thoroughly rigged,and are therefore unacceptable”. The UCPN-M is also initiating a move to amend the interim constitution,so that the new prime minister is “chosen” on the basis of consensus,not majority. If that happens,the Maoists and their chief Prachanda may still strike a deal with others that,with Nepali Congress leader G.P. Koirala deceased,he is the only surviving signatory to the historic peace accord seven years ago.

While the Maoists’ role and participation will be crucial for concluding the peace process and writing the new constitution,their appropriation of governance after their crushing defeat will be a clear subversion of the mandate by which the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) have emerged as the two largest parties. In fact,the hung House will be a badly fragmented one,with intra-party divisions in key parties likely to further trigger political instability. If Prachanda is able to overrule two senior leaders — Baburam Bhattarai and Narayan Kaji Shrestha — within his party,he will force a major constitutional crisis by delaying the nomination of legislators under the proportional representation system and by not letting those elected under the first past the post system take oath within the stipulated timeframe.

The UCPN-M,as a face-saver,has formed an internal committee to collect evidence of “rigging and manipulation”. Both the international community and the winning parties know Maoists need to be persuaded to accept their defeat with or without grace. “We are not going to move out of the peace process and the mandate,” Bhattarai assured US Ambassador Peter W. Bodde. But Maoist rhetoric and practice have often gone against each other. How will the Nepali Congress and UML lead the peace and constitution-making process this time round?

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In the First CA,they had blindly followed the Maoists’ radical agenda. Following the handover of government to Koirala,the all-party consensus leader,by former king Gyanendra in 2006,the Maoists ensured no one opposed their interpretation of the movement’s mandate and the changes they sought. Anybody with reservations kept silent,fearing that the Maoists would brand them “regressive forces loyal to the feudal monarchy”. Those who differed with the manner in which Nepal was declared a secular and federal republic,without debate and without following due process in the House,failed to “record” their reservations.

Moreover,the last CA,by failing to deliver the constitution,failed to institutionalise these changes. A common stance on issues,with due adherence to the best democratic practices elsewhere,can address most of the lapses of the past.

The new House will have a more divided composition and greater rigidity of approach. Party leaders are interacting more with diplomats than calling for meetings of their decision-making bodies. The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist,which led the 33-party boycott,still insists the election will lead to no solution,as “it was done more by external design”. On the other hand,the US,EU and India,by complimenting the election commission and electoral government for “successfully conducting free and fair elections”,have rejected the UCPN-M’s allegations that the polls were rigged.

How will the party that’s yet to accept the mandate react to the disapproving response of the international community? The polls had an impressive 70 per cent turnout because of the effective mobilisation of security forces and because the interests of external and internal forces converged. But now,that convergence no longer exists,as the Maoist stance makes clear. For the electorate,success will mean parties working together within the mandate,with no side excluded from the constitution-making process,and with no “outside interference”. Nepal’s experience shows,however,that’s hoping for too much.

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com