Although four parties have cleared almost the last hurdle for November 19, 2013, elections by signing an agreement with the Federal Socialist Party-Nepal, led by Ashok Rai, their failure to persuade CPN-Maoist to take part in the elections has affected work to create a congenial poll environment.
Given the current political stand taken by both the groups, any agreement to ensure peaceful elections is unlikely soon. Formally, the talk has already broken down. However, UCPN-Maoist leader Prachanda and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai held several informal talks with Maoist leaders recently. Similarly, Nepali Congress and CPN-UML also held informal meetings with CPN-Maoist leader Vaidya. However, nothing has materialized.
On Monday (9 September) evening, Maoist leader Vaidya met president Dr. Ram Baran Yadav privately and discussed the political scenario. According to reliable sources, Vaidya requested president Dr. Yadav to give them some space for face saving.
As his earlier private meeting with UCPN-Maoist, Nepali Congress and CPN-UML leader, Vadiya requested president Dr. Yadav to help postpone the elections till the last week of March or beginning of April 2014. Vaidya's group told other leaders earlier that they will drop all the demands and take part in the elections in case the elections were postponed till the first week of March 2014. Although no words have been expressed from any quarters, given the strong pressure from Nepal's development partners and two neighbors India and China to hold the elections on November 19, 2013, political parties are likely to take the initiative to convey the message of Maoists.
Nepali Congress leader Dr. Minendra Rijal expressed hope that Vaidya will take part in the elections. However, CPN-Maoist leader Dev Gurung said that they will not participate in the November 19 elections. As CPN-Maoist has not registered with the Election Commission, their participation in the election as a separate party is unlikely at this hour.
All Party Meet
At a time when the High Level Political Committee has been negotiating with CPN-Maoist, the interim government has organized an all-party meet. During the meeting, almost all political parties represented in the previous CA stressed the need to hold the elections on November 19. The possibility of holding the elections in November 19 has increased. However, nobody is sure what will be the level of political violence in an election without participation of CPN-Maoist.
As the four-party alliance has already made it clear that they cannot negotiate on the condition of postponement of November 19 elections and Maoists have shown their determination to disrupt the poll, violent clashes are likely to erupt in the coming days. Maoists have already announced a series of general strikes just before the beginning of the poll process. As most of disgruntled Maoist combatants are with CPN-Maoist, they are likely to create nation-wide troubles. Meanwhile, as per the existing calendar of events, the political parties should submit their lists of candidates to the EC by September 23.
The role of president Dr.Ram Baran Yadav is going to be crucial at the last minute as he has to sign some ordinances to amend the laws and constitution. As Maoists is still opposed to the date, the government is yet to move the bills required to make amendment in the constitution and election law.
Because of the delay in sending the amendment ordinance to president Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, who took a stand last week that he is unlikely to ink any amendment clause without the agreement of all the disgruntled parties, the election process has already been affected. Chief Election Commissioner Neelkanth Uprety told New Spotlight that the process of printing materials has been delayed because of the uncertainty in the number of CA members and number of political parties.
According to the last amendment, there were 491 members in the Constituent Assembly. After signing the agreement with Madheshi Janadhikar Forum Nepal, the parties agreed to increase it to 591 and now finally parties agreed to maintain the 601 members as in the past.
Internal Party Equations
Political parties are making efforts to use the current stalemate in their favor. UCPN-Maoist insisted to sign the agreement with Madheshi Janadhikar Forum Nepal because it wants to have electoral adjustments in Madhesh with MJF-Nepal. Similarly, Nepali Congress and UCPN-Maoist woo Ashok Rai led Federal Socialist Party-Nepal hoping that it will politically benefit their candidates. CPN-UML was reluctant to bring Rai led party in the elections because overwhelming members of Ashok Rai led party are former sympathizers of UML. Nepali Congress and CPN-UML are negotiating with Maoist on the elections agenda. UCPN-Maoist leaders want Maoist out of elections process as a separate political force. Thus, UCPN-Maoists leaders are privately negotiating with CPN-Maoist for the possible electoral alliance or to make a joint front.
Parties in Elections
Although there is still some sort of uncertainty, major political parties have already started the process of selection of candidates for elections. Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and UCPN-Maoist have already directed their district offices to select the candidates and send their names to the center. As the process of selection of candidates begins, all political leaders and new party aspirants are now in the district headquarters. The rush of political leaders in district headquarters has geared up election related activities in the district. Similarly, Madhesh based parties are in the process of negotiations to form an alliance for the coming elections.
Along with successful agreement between Ashok Rai led Federal Socialist Party Nepal and four party led High Level Political Committee (HLPC), the political scenario was dominated by the indefinite fasting by Krishna Adhikary’s parents, demanding a murder charge against a Maoist cadre and Supreme Court’s decision to quash 14 petitions related to appointment of current chairman of council of minister without hearing. The raid by Revenue Investigation Department at the office of former chief of Nepal Bar Association Sambhu Thapa also sparked major controversy. Adhikary duo broke their fasting following arrest of Maoist worker on murder charge. Two Maoist factions CPN-Maoist and UCPN-Maoist jointly condemned the event as against the spirit of Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The arrest also intensified the conflict as UCPN-Maoist and Maoist party accused Nepali Congress and CPN-UML as instigating them.
Regmi To Leave For UN
In a more uncertain political period or just two days before the beginning of election process, chairman of the Interim Election Council Khil Raj Regmi is leaving for New York on September 21 at the head of a 14-member Nepalese delegation to the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). According to the Ministry of Foreign Affair, Chairman Regmi is scheduled to address the General Assembly on September 28. Foreign and Home minister Madhav Prasad Ghimire is scheduled to leave for Washington DC on September 17-- four days before Chairman Regmi´s departure for New York. The delegation will fly back home on September 30. Nepali Congress-CPN-UML leaders have already raised a question over the visit, arguing that in the absence of the government head and the minister tasked with the responsibility for ensuring a conducive security environment for the constituent assembly polls, poll prospects may be affected.
What is Next?
As the election date is approaching, the options are getting narrower before the political forces. As there is a little time left, choices are limited. Given the current political stands taken by political forces, political confrontations are likely. The postponement of the election may create more constitutional crisis as it will raise the question of legitimacy of the government. If the political crisis prolongs, it will definitely bring the president at the center stage. Another broader political agreement, accepting the present government’s constitutional status for certain period of time, may be likely as well. By taking part in the formal negotiations with the present government, Maoist led alliance has already indicated that they can accept the legitimacy of the government. If Maoists agree to go for polls, withdrawing the demands for roundtable meeting and accepting the legitimacy of the government, parties are likely to consider postponing the elections for a few more months. Here the role of president Dr.Yadav is important. UCPN-Maoist leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha confided that they will postpone the election in case of Maoists agree to go for polls with written commitments accepting the present political and constitutional set up. As parties have failed to form the Disappearance Commission and Truth and Reconciliation Commission, more trouble will be in store for the coming days.