A thick cloud of uncertainty still hangs over Nepalese politics today. The present interim election government led by sitting Chief Justice (CJ) Khilraj Regmi is tasked with holding a second Constituent Assembly (CA) election, but there is much debate in the country as to whether it will be able to hold that election in a free and fair manner and, most importantly, on schedule the 19th of November. People are raising a huge question: if this bureaucrat-led government fails to fulfill its given task, what will happen next? When named head of the interim government in March, the chief justice promised to serve only as a caretaker until the election that would usher in a new era of political stability for our country could be overseen in June. That election did not happen, and now the re-scheduled November poll seems to be equally in doubt.
Elections are considered to be an unavoidable—indeed, the defining—element needed to consolidate democracy and the peace-building process. In view of the gross failure of political parties and their members to draft a constitution during the first CA, and of the relentless power games, bad governance, and fractured party organizations, it is no wonder that all political parties directly or indirectly appear now to be scared of returning to the people. Experience shows that elections in any post-conflict situation can often add to the prevailing political problems rather than provide a democratic solution to them.
One thing seems certain: the promised election in November (or even later) will be meaningless unless the country address the following questions beforehand: Is the country really prepared mentally, politically, and socially for such an election? What will happen to any progress made during the last CA’s tenure? What issues and problems may arise in the second CA? Are they going to face the same sort of issues all over again? Can they honestly say that the country have done enough homework for an election in November? What have they learned from the last CA? What do they need to change? How likely is it that the position of the parties will change drastically in the second CA? Will not the confrontational tendencies be just the same as the country saw amid the drama of the first CA? The mandates of that CA were hijacked by a few so-called bosses of political parties both inside the CA and outside.
In the light of this, more questions need to be asked: Without specifying sufficient criteria, aims and ambitions, can the second CA election be anything other than suicidal—politically, socially, and economically? Is it not likely to be the source of yet more political confrontation rather than of peace and stability in the country? Will the second CA election have any meaning at all unless it can lead to a constitution that is capable of acceptance by all? Nepal must consider this matter very seriously indeed. Over-politicization of subjects of public interest and the selfish attitudes of so-called leaders prevented the first CA from working properly and independently. The success of a new CA election will be dependent to a large extent on the prevalence of law and order and on the full democratic involvement of both political actors and ordinary citizens. Adequate preparation for the second CA election is the most vital departure point now for the country, and I have a few illustrative points.
Firstly, no election is likely to succeed without a commitment to dialogue, local ownership, and broad stakeholder inclusion and participation. The greatest hurdle is that of political atmosphere. Nepal is conducting a second CA election, in the hope that any constitution that may eventually result is likely to be acceptable to all. For that, every political force needs to be engaged in the process in order to arrive at a better result. However, some political forces, including the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, have already decided not to take part in the election unless there are changes to the political structure. Dialogue on this matter is in progress, but the question remains: how can a better outcome be achieved unless the election is fully inclusive? How can the second CA be successful without participation by all the political forces? How can a country where sixty per cent of people live below the poverty line afford to spend billions and billions of rupees without proper strategies and plans in place? Does that not amount to a huge gamble if the outcome of the new CA could possibly be as negative as the last?
Secondly, all political parties must rise above purely partisan interests for the sake of country’s future. The forthcoming second CA election must be approached with a common goal and a common strategy aimed at offering the country a way out of its current woes. Some political parties have declared that they will boycott the election. If history is not to be repeated, they must show a special public commitment to act responsibly once the new CA has been elected. Is it not essential that the country set out clear plans and goals for where the second CA should stand in terms of the political agendas and problems that we faced during first CA? They must make clear the departure and destination points of the second CA. Agendas of common concern must be kept above partisan politics, and Nepal must learn from past mistakes and experiences. If the country is not to descend further into anarchy, they need to prepare thoroughly for an election that is based on greater political consensus and aimed at serving common purposes.
Thirdly, where in their country today are there any systems of checks and balances, of transparency, or of accountability—all essential pillars of a democracy? In principle, power should lie with the people, but power in their country has become a personalized commodity reserved for the political elite. The rule of law and the values of constitutionalism have been sacrificed as corruption has become a way of life affecting politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen. Let them ask again what the new election is for. If it is really aimed a new constitution, should they not now be examining in detail past tendencies, processes, people and attitudes before we jump in at the deep end? Where, for instance, might democracy figure into the new constitution? As yet it has failed to become deeply rooted in our country because loyalty, ambition, religiosity, and ethnicity have had greater appeal. However, democracy is well tested around the world, enabling systems of government constantly to evolve and to self-correct. Moreover, they need to develop democratic institutions capable of involving people at the grassroots level: in their absence our national life has been allowed to stagnate.
Finally, personally, I strongly believe that the election scheduled for November 19 should ideally be conducted on time and in a free and fair manner. It is urgent that they end the on-going transition sooner rather than later and that they fully restore law and order in their country.
However, if the nation really does require more time for better preparation in order to obtain a positive outcome, Nepal should, as a hard option and a hard choice, not hesitate to postpone it subject to wide political agreement. In that case, the formation of an all-party election government would be necessary. Conducting an election under such a government would be more democratic, more inclusive and more legitimate. The current so-called interim election government actually has no constitutional legitimacy. It resulted from pure opportunism and is the hostage of a few political parties. One of its biggest challenges is to hold the election on time. If it cannot do that, the government’s purpose will be severely questioned. What is the moral authority for this government to conduct the election? These points need to be carefully addressed through greater political dialogue. If necessary, Mr Regmi should step down and allow another election government to be formed among the political forces!
Nepal has had no election since that for the first CA, which failed in its mission and left the country in chaos amid political, social and economic stagnation. Today, the fate of this nation of thirty million people is frozen by political paralysis, uncertainty and total crisis. Nepal still anxiously looks for a transition from bloody civil war to peace and to full democracy. A huge question remains among us: how much longer must the country wait? Even if the election takes place, how they we be sure that the new CA will be any more capable of drafting a new constitution than the last? Unless they plan well and seriously do their homework ahead of the upcoming election, the country as whole is sure to be confronted by new challenges and once again there will be no new constitution.
There is still time left now for the country to prepare itself and to do homework before the country plunge into the big task ahead. Most importantly there is still time to change their attitudes – still time to allow value-politics based on conscience and common sense to take over. Ultimately, the opportunity that the second CA offers must not be wasted. Let them ensure that it becomes truly historic and produces a really positive result from which they can all benefit.