Red is the colour of national flag

The Left Alliance leaders would be well advised not to take the electoral verdict as victory of communism

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

SD Muni

Nepal has just completed a historic first election held under the Republican, Federal and Democratic polity. It was mandated by the new Constitution adopted in September 2015 and will prove to be an important landmark in Nepal’s constitutional evolution. The process and outcome of this election reflects significant systemic features. It legitimises the new Constitution and completes the its implementation; it has deeply polarised Nepal along seemingly ideological lines between the Communists and Democrats; and it has streamlined Nepal’s national political parties by reducing their number to 5 from nearly 36.

The elections were held for parliament and provincial assemblies. The Parliament will have 275 members in all; 165 elected directly and 110 to be nominated by the parties on the basis of proportional representation (PR). The Provincial Assemblies of the seven designated provinces under the constitution will have 550 members in all, 330 of them coming through direct election and the remaining 220 nominated on PR basis.

The new Constitution also mandates that 33% of all these seats, both at the parliamentary as well as provincial levels will be reserved for women, a provision which no other South Asian country has accepted so far. The Nepali voters have given a clear verdict in favor of the Left Alliance formed only weeks before the elections by the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (UML) led by KP Sharma Oli and Red is the colour of national flag the Maoist Centre (MC) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’. They together have secured absolute majority in parliament as well as six of the seven provincial assemblies, leaving only Province No.2, for the Madhes based parties.

They are however, falling short of their campaign claim of obtaining 2/3rd majority. This means that the Alliance will not be able to effect any Constitutional Amendments on their own. The opposition represented by the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Madhes parties will have to be taken on board for any change. The UML is the dominant partner in the Alliance securing 80 of the 165 direct seats in parliament, as against the Maoists who have got only 36.

However, the UML will not have an absolute majority on their own when all the PR votes are added. There is no way they can get 52 votes required for such majority out of a 110 seats allocated for PR. This gives the junior partner Maoists at least a theoretical chance to walk out of the Alliance and seek greener political pastures elsewhere if the UML frustrates them in the process of sharing power or unifying the two parties as envisaged while forging the Alliance.

The Left Alliance was opposed by the NC and the Madhes parties but their efforts to put up a joint fight by forming a Democratic Alliance did not succeed. While the NC has ended up winning only 23 directly contested parliamentary seats, the Madhes parties trail behind at 21 seats. There is possibility of their getting 30-35 seats each through PR, which will keep them as weak and divided opposition. The Left victory should be credited to their strong leadership and organized campaign.

Both the UML and the Maoists are cadre-based parties. They have strong organisations to support and mobilse. The UML leader Oli and the Maoists chief Prachanda are articulate orators and crowd pullers and they effectively communicated their electoral plank of giving their voters a stable and development oriented governance. As against this Sher Bahadur Deuba of the NC proved to be a weak leader. He is a poor communicator and his party went to polls with internal fishers and feuds. The principal campaign thrust of the NC was to project the Left Alliance as a dictatorial and totalitarian force. The voters did not buy this argument as they know that the Nepali communists have been mainstreamed into parliamentary politics, they have been coming to power through democratic elections and have worked smoothly with non-communist parties in coalition governments. The Left Alliance is set to form the government. The Alliance leaders would however be well advised not to take the electoral verdict as victory of communism.

Accordingly, they would do well to desist from the politics of patronage and party consolidation that they have been apt at so far. The verdict in fact is for a new Nepali new nationalism, which is desperately seeking political stability and development denied to the Nepali people by decades of oppression, political manipulations and poor or non-governance; first under the autocratic monarchy and since 2006, under the republican leadership.

This nationalism is Khas-Arya community (Hill upper castes) based and is resentful of Madhes and tribal groups. This new Nepali nationalism also has a strong anti-Indian under current. Monarchical regimes as well as party leaders have been cultivating it for years for their respective regime survival and access to power. However, in the recent years, India’s thoughtless muscular diplomacy has deeply hurt not only Kathmandu’s power managers but also ordinary people. Recall India’s brazen intervention in Nepal’s constitutional process to ensure Madhes accommodation, which even prompted India to impose restrictions on the flow of essential goods to Nepal for nearly five months after September 2015. The Nepalese call it ‘economic blockade’, that seriously jeopardized normal life of every Nepali. Oli and the Maoist have politically exploited this Indian approach for their political gains.

The electoral results constitute a reward for their deft politics of harnessing popular sentiments. India therefore faces a tough challenge in dealing with the Left dominated Nepal. It will have to heal, the emotional wounds of the Nepalis inflicted by its muscular approach through new and astute initiatives and diplomatic moves of accommodation and resilience. The challenge for India in Nepal has been complicated further by the economic and strategic advances made by China, which exploited the Nepalese alienation from India. The new Nepali leadership may find it economically useful and politically profitable to cultivate the Chinese. China was reported in the Nepali media as the prime mover behind the Left Alliance and would like to get this Alliance consolidated in pursuance of its own larger South Asian agenda. But it would be futile for the Nepali leaders to assume that China can be an economic, developmental or cultural substitute for India. The election results in Nepal have put India-Nepal relations in a new gear and it remains to be seen as to how Nepal’s new leadership and the strategic pundits in India’s South Block will carry it forward

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Published: 24 Dec 2017, 8:55 AM