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Hold timely elections to end the impasse in Nepal: India

August 07, 2013 15:37 IST

Postponing elections could lead to the collapse of the interim election government without an alternative arrangement, reports Shubha Singh

When Nepali Congress chief Sushil Koirala meets Indian political leaders during his five-day visit to India, he will be the fourth Nepali leader to visit India in recent times.

In the past couple of months, leaders of Nepal’s three main political parties, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninists) have visited Delhi at the invitation of the Indian government.

The visits of the Nepali leaders to Delhi are part of the process of consultations and to reinforce India’s strong backing for the elections to the Constituent Assembly. The elections are due to be held on November 19.

The three main political formations in Nepal are in favour of elections being held on the scheduled date, but there is a small section within these parties that are ready for a postponement. It is however, the dissident hardline Maoist faction led by Mohan Baidya that is strongly opposed to the elections.

About 33 small political parties and groups have their objections to holding the elections until some issues are resolved. There has been some talk in Kathmandu among mainstream politicians that efforts should be made to arrive at a consensus even if it means delaying the polls. In Kathmandu’s charged atmosphere such statements lead to fears that polls may be postponed.  

The three former prime ministers, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Sher Bahadur Dueba and Madhav Nepal, who visited Delhi in the recent months, held meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj.

The Indian leaders emphasised the importance of timely elections which would end the impasse in Nepal by electing a constituent assembly. The three former prime ministers expressed their commitment to holding elections in November.

The previous constituent assembly was elected in 2008 following the peace agreement of 2006 that ended the Maoist insurgency. The constituent assembly’s extended tenure ended in 2012 without the assembly completing the task of drafting a new constitution. During this period, each of the major parties took their turn in heading the government.

As a means to end the constitutional vacuum, the major political parties eventually agreed that an election government headed by the chief justice be constituted which would hold elections for a new constituent assembly.

The main political parties agreed to the November elections, but the Baidya Maoist faction announced an “active boycott” of the elections and also warned that it would use its cadres to enforce the boycott.  He also called for an alliance with deposed King Gyanendra.

The dissident Maoists could act as a spoiler in some areas but a recent poll by a Nepali newspaper showed that a majority of those polled were in favour of elections being held in November. There has been a strong sense of alienation from political parties among the people at the parties’ inability to resolve their differences and rein in their ambitions for the larger good. Any change or postponement in the election date will add to the people’s anger. Postponing elections could lead to the collapse of the interim election government without an alternative arrangement.  

The Election Commission has completed the task of voter registration; 12.1 million voters were registered with photo identity cards. This is substantially less than the numbers registered in 2008 when there were reports of duplicate registrations. About 139 parties have applied for registration with the Election Commission.

There are issues regarding constituency delimitation and the number of seats for proportional representation that have caused major disagreements. But these are not insurmountable issues and can be resolved through dialogue. The Constituency Delimitation Committee is due to give its report in a month’s time. The message from Indian leaders, from both sides of the political spectrum, is on the importance of holding elections on schedule.

Image: Getty Images

Shubha Singh in New Delhi