From Nepali Times, ISSUE #681 (15 November 2013 – 21 November 2013)
If the 19 November ballot can be relatively clean, the possibilities are that Constituent Assembly-II will have a life
Before the April 2008 elections, I had predicted that the Maoists would come in third place. Of course, that turned out to be ‘wrong’, whereas analysts who had kept mum prior to the polls could claim smugly that they had known the outcome all along. Truth be told, pretty much everyone believed that the Maoists would come a poor third, including the key diplomatic missions that keep a watch on Nepal. The Maoists themselves were taken aback by their overwhelming success, making them bigger in the CA than the Nepali Congress and UML combined.
How did the Maoists achieve victory and what can be said regarding the upcoming elections of 19 November? The CA-I elections had been originally set for November 2007, but the Maoist leadership successfully pushed for postponement, because ‘preparations’ were incomplete. Pushpa Kamal Dahal was confident enough to go for polls on 10 April 2008 (see the ‘Shaktikhor video’ and its reference to money, muscle, and bone-breaking), but still surprised by the result.
The basis for the 2008 Maoist showing can be divided roughly into three parts. One-third of the win was earned, based on a ‘vote for change’ fed by an ultra-populist campaign that promised everything to everyone. A third was due to the atmosphere of all-out intimidation during the campaign period: the parliamentary parties that had evacuated the villages during the conflict could not get back to show their presence because of the deployment of the Young Communist League and ex-combatants from the cantonments. The last third had to do with election-day ‘herapheri’, massive electoral fraud including doctored voter lists, prevention of non-supporters from going to voting centres, intimidation of polling personnel, and ballot-box stuffing.
There were many other contributory factors, including the declarations of the then-chief election commissioner that the polls had to be seen as a part of the peace process, the implication being that hanky-panky be excused. And that’s what happened on the appointed day – if the Election Commission had acted to cancel polling in specific booths when the first incidents were reported from Ramechhap in the morning, the outcome would have been somewhat different.
There are many reasons why the CA-I failed after four years of desultory work. However, the foundational cause has not really been discussed: unfree and unfair polls. As a result, the assembly failed to garner credibility and the public’s trust, even though of course it went through the motions of constitution writing.
“Let us not repeat the type of polling of 2008, please,” was the cumulative refrain of journalists, political activists, and common citizens, when I travelled through Nepalganj, Surkhet, Mahendranagar, and Dhangadi of the Far-West earlier in the week. The folks in the villages and towns believe that the country cannot afford another dirty elections, one that would fail to inspire confidence in both the forthcoming government and the CA.
The superstructure of the upcoming election is exceedingly weak, due to matters related to ‘threshold’, the unlocked nature of the proportional list, the release from ‘inclusiveness’ for the smaller parties, and those accused of war crimes being allowed to run. Given this, the only option is to try and ensure free campaigning and election day security.
This is where the civil society of the Far-West is worried. While the cantonments are now a memory and the UCPN (M) cannot activate the YCL with the same destructive ability as it did five years ago, the locals say there will be extensive electoral fraud through threats of violence and unloading of hard cash. A journalist told me this week, “Away from the bajars, things are not that much different. The election observers are as timid, the security forces are spread out too thin, and whole communities remain intimidated.”
With its increasingly violent anti-election activity, Mohan Baidya’s CPN-M has sought to mar the campaigning, ensuring that the electorate is diverted from the issues at hand – national sovereign manoeuverability, plunder of the exchequer, inter-community polarisation, and candidacies of alleged perpetrators. The spate of cowardly bombings of the past week has begun to make Baidya look like an accessory of Dahal.
The only recourse left on the side of democracy is for the EC to be gutsy and act where it failed in 2008 – to cancel polling in individual booths or whole election districts the moment voter fraud and intimidation are confirmed. If we are to treat the CA election once again as a part of the peace process, we will neither be able to revert to representative democracy, nor get a constitution.