After elections, Nepal searches for a unified path forward

The surprise results of Nepal’s elections are now giving way to the next, perhaps more challenging, step of piecing together a coalition to write a new constitution and move toward abolishing the monarchy. In the recent election, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) won the most seats — 220 out of 601 — in the Constituent Assembly that is tasked with writing the constitution and deciding on the political framework for the Himalayan nation. Nepal has been ruled by a Hindu king for more than 200 years.

The Nepali Congress Party came in second with 110 seats and the Communist Party of Nepal – UML was a close third with 103 seats. The current prime minister is Girija Prasad Koirala of the Congress Party.

In the round of voting, which used proportional representation, the Communist UML received 20.5 percent, while the Nepali Congress got 21 percent and the Maoists topped with 29 percent.

Thanks to patient persuasion by left and democratic forces of Nepal, as well as of neighboring India, the Maoist CPN-M entered the electoral arena last year and ended its 12-year long “People’s War.” An end to the stalemate between the Maoists and the monarchy, with its brutal suppression of the people and all political activists, was necessary in order for Nepal to move forward.

The U.S. government provided millions of dollars in military aid to fight the Maoists, which it considers a terrorist group. The “terrorist” designation is now under review by Washington. Former President Jimmy Carter, whose team was part of the international election observers, suggested that the U.S. should welcome the Nepal developments.

Parchanda, the chairman of the CPN-Maoists, issued a statement renouncing “all forms of violence,” saying “we want to show a new model of peace process.”

Both of Nepal’s giant neighbors, China and India, congratulated Parchanda (whose name means “one who is fired up for victory”) for his party’s success. China recently offered to build a rail link from Lhasa, Tibet, to Khasa, Nepal, within the next five years. Such a railway would bring more trade and tourism, and also promote more people-to-people contact in the Himalayan heights.

The king of Nepal, whose powers were drastically curtailed in a pre-election agreement and interim constitution, said he is satisfied with the people’s participation in the election process.

But the situation is full of thorny issues. The Nepali Congress Party said it will not “give up government leadership” unless the Maoists surrender their weapons to the army. But the agreement, said the Maoists, was not to surrender arms, but to merge their army with Nepal’s army.

The Maoists have approached national and regional parties, including the UML, to form a coalition that would give them a two-thirds majority necessary for anything to pass in the Constituent Assembly.

One of the regional parties they have approached — the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum of the southern Himalayan slopes bordering India, which has 30 seats in Nepal’s Constituent Assembly — demands a separate state.

In addition, Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba urged his party to continue the present government of seven parties, under Prime Minister Koirala, and not hand over power to the Maoists. The rationale, he argues, is that the interim constitution says a two-thirds majority vote is required, but the Maoists may not be able to cobble together the necessary votes.

The UML is discussing whether it should join with the Maoists. But one of its demands is that the Maoists disband their youth wing because of their coercive tactics, including using arms, throughout the elections.