By S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management
On June 13, 2013, the Interim Election Government formed on March 13, 2013, headed by Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi, announced November 19, 2013, as the date for holding fresh Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. After the dissolution of the first CA on May 27, 2012, it was first decided to hold elections for the new CA on November 22, 2012. The absence of a political consensus forced a deadline extension to June 21, 2013, and now, further, to November 19.
The first CA was elected in April 2008 with a mandate to draft a new Constitution within two years, but was dissolved as the task remained incomplete despite four extensions of the deadline.
The main political parties have supported the present election deadline. On July 4, 2013, Nepali Congress (NC) Acting President Ram Chandra Poudel stated that his party was willing to be flexible on any issue, except the decision to hold CA elections on November 19, 2013. Similarly, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal, on June 30, 2013, declared that his party would provide ‘total support’ to make the CA elections a success. Mahantha Thakur, Chairman of the Terai Madhesh Democratic Party (TMDP), on July 4, 2013, stated that the elections cannot be put off just because of intimidation threats from some political parties. He added, further, that the CA elections scheduled to be held on November 19 were unavoidable and that his party would actively participate, noting, "In our villages, even the fishes are killed with bombs. We are not, therefore, scared of bombs and the threats of bombs. Election will happen at any cost." While supporting the election schedule, Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) Central Committee (CC) member Barsha Man Pun stated, on July 12, 2013, that efforts to bring dissenting groups, including the Mohan Baidya-led Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (CPN-Maoist-Baidya), were being pushed forward: “Talks are under way among the parties for holding a round-table conference to address Baidyaji’s demands in a manner that does not hamper the scheduled polls. The focus is on taking the two (talks with Baidya and poll process) side by side.”
Despite the support of the four major political formations in Nepal, consensus on the November elections remains elusive at present. Crucially, the alliance of 33 smaller political parties led by CPN-Maoist-Baidya organized a Press Conference in Kathmandu on June 13, 2013, to issue a statement that noted, “The Government itself is unconstitutional as it was formed through an unconstitutional Presidential decree. Holding an election on the basis of such a decree is akin to pushing the country towards further crisis."
On March 21, 2013, CPN-Maoist-Baidya had set three preconditions for the party to contest CA elections: that the four major political parties scrap the 11-point agreement that led to the formation of an Election Government under Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi; dissolution of the current Government; and the organisation of a round table conference to form a Government of national unity. Again, during a meeting with NC vice president Ram Chandra Poudel and others held on July 6, 2013, in Kathmandu, the CPN-Maoist-Baidya leaders set forth three new conditions: the "remaining 10 per cent work" of the first CA should be accomplished by all parties now; the 25 point Presidential Decree of March 13, 2013, on the basis of which the non-political Government of sitting Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi was formed, be reviewed and the Government be substituted with a political one; postpone the already-declared November 19 elections by three-four months so that "course-corrective measures" could be applied without rush.
On March 13, 2013, a 25-point ordinance had been approved by President Ram Baran Yadav to remove constitutional difficulties for the Election Government and the election. On July 7, 2013, CPN-Maoist-Baidya Chairman Mohan Baidya, declared, "We are against the formation of present non-political Government and 25-point order. So, the four big parties need to agree on cancellation of the order first if they were flexible." Earlier, on July 1, 2013, more than 100 CC members of CPN-Maoist-Baidya assembled at a CC meeting in the Pokhara area of Kaski District and urged the party leadership to take harsh measures to boycott the elections and to prepare for a “people’s revolt” which emphasized an urban-centric uprising, and to form alliances with other national forces, including civil society and professional associations.
However, the major parties – UCPN-M, CPN-UML, NC and TMDP – supporting the elections have decided to reach out to the agitating political parties to convince them to join the election process as early as possible. NC Acting President Ram Chandra Poudel on July 4, 2013, stated that if CPN-Maoist-Baidya is really serious regarding the CA, people’s sovereignty and drafting of the new constitution, then the party should have no qualms about the November elections. Likewise, on June 30, 2013, CPN-UML Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal claimed that parties that decide to boycott the upcoming election would themselves be sidelined and would vanish into oblivion.
In a surprising move, on June 25, 2013, UCPN-M Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda held a 'secret' meeting with CPN-Maoist-Baidya Chairman Mohan Baidya aka Kiran at UCPN-M leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara's residence in Lalitpur District, to discuss the possibility of reunion and electoral alliance. Dahal, however, received no clear assurance from Baidya.
In the meantime, on July 8, 2013, the High Level Political Committee (HLPC) Coordinator Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar held a discussion with Khil Raj Regmi on calling an all-party round table conference to convince the CPN-Maoist-Baidya, which had been demanding a round table conference. The CPN-Maoist-Baidya responded by making public its five-member dialogue team under the leadership of its Chairman Mohan Baidya noting, "We want non-conditional talks with the Government. We want a round table conference so that it can lead to a national consensus Government. A new process of holding the next CA polls will begin then." This position, however, led to friction in the 33-party alliance opposing the elections. Not surprisingly, leaders from all the 32 other parties of the alliance boycotted a meeting called by CPN-Maoist-Baidya Secretary Dev Gurung on July 10, 2013. Mani Thapa, chief of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Nepal, a member of the alliance, stated, “We didn’t attend the meeting called for today [July 10] because the CPN-Maoist (Baidya) formed the talks team without holding any discussion with other parties in the alliance. It is against the official position of the alliance.”
While efforts to pacify the political opponents of the CA elections continue, on July 3, 2013, 12 armed outfits of the Terai region decided to unify and declared their agenda to thwart the forthcoming CA elections. This united front named itself the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM, Democratic Terai Freedom Front) and Rajan Mukti was appointed its Chairman. The JTMM also endorsed an eight-point course of action aimed at disrupting the CA polls, among other objectives.
The Terai, which hosts most of the 125 caste/ethnic groups reported in Nepal’s 2011 Census Report, remains a hot bed of violence in the country, even though some groups, such as the Bhagat Singh led Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM-Bhagat Singh), have handed over their weapons to the Government following the signing of the four-point deal in August 2012; and the Samyukta Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha’s (SJTMM’s) has decided to come over ground. Though no terrorism related killing has taken place across Nepal thus far in 2013, out of the 11 killings (10 civilians and a militant) in Nepal in 2012, six were located in the Terai. Indeed, in the worst attack in Nepal since May 29, 2007, when nine were killed in Palpa District, at least five people died and some two dozen were injured in a bomb explosion at Ramanand Chowk in Janakpur District on April 30, 2012. In the most recent incident in the Terai, on June 16, 2013, two persons, including a Nepal Army (NA) soldier, were injured when JTMM-Rajan Mukti cadres opened fire in Janakpur city, Dhanusa District.
Amidst these adverse developments, the Election Commission (EC) continued its processes of preparing for elections. The EC made public the election timetable on June 18, 2013, and held its first discussion with the Government Secretaries and Special Class Officers on June 24, 2013. In another significant development, the Constituency Delimitation Commission (CDC), created on June 13, 2013, following a Supreme Court order for re-drawing the constituencies in line with the census report, started its work on June 25, 2013, after its members were sworn. The CDC announced that the delineation of 240 constituencies would be guided by Articles 154 and 63 of the Interim Constitution. Further, in a meeting held at its central office in Kathmandu on July 10, 2013, the EC imposed an election code of conduct with effect from July 22, 2013, with some amendments in the earlier (June 17, 2013) drafted code of conduct.
The election of a fresh CA and the finalization of a Constitution are preconditions to any enduring stability in Nepal’s politics. Unfortunately, the road to elections and the drafting process has been riddled with difficulties. With the four principal political formations in the country arriving at a consensus on the CA elections, however, it is likely that the first hurdle to the drafting of the Constitution and the formation of a new elected Government, will be crossed, despite objections from some of the smaller political formations. The extent to which the more radicalized elements in these formations are willing to go to thwart the elections, however, remains to be seen.