Move ends uncertainty about the political roadmap

Ending the uncertainty about the political roadmap, Nepal’s major political forces have agreed to go in for fresh elections for a Constituent Assembly (CA). The previous CA failed to deliver a Constitution, owing to differences on state restructuring among political parties. Its term ended on May 27.

On Wednesday, the four major political forces — Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Nepali Congress (NC), Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), and United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) — discussed ways to resolve the political impasse. One option was to revive the CA, while the second was to hold elections. The revival of the CA remained contingent on a deal on federalism. Parties stuck to their stated positions on the names, numbers and boundaries of federal states. The Maoists and Madhesi parties stood for either 10 or 14 primarily identity-based states, as recommended by the CA committee and State Restructuring Commission concerned. The NC pushed for 11 states, which would have carved out the Tarai plains into five provinces, and the UML argued in favour of a seven-state model.

Emerging from the talks on Wednesday evening, UML chairman and former Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal, said, “We are not in a situation to agree on contentious constitutional issues. So the possibility of reinstating the CA for a short while to promulgate the constitution is not there anymore. We have decided to go for fresh elections.”

While the NC had earlier backed polls for a new Parliament, party general secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula, said they had agreed elections would be for a new CA. “Once the CA does its work and the constitution is promulgated, the same house can transform into a Parliament. Elections will take place under a national unity government.”

Speaking to The Hindu, Health Minister and Madhesi leader, Rajendra Mahato, said Wednesday’s in-principle agreement needs to be followed by a ‘package deal’. “While the election system will be a mix of both first-past-the-post and proportional representation like last time, we now need to decide on the number of seats, date of fresh polls, ways to remove the constitutional and legal difficulties in holding polls, and leadership and composition of the election government.”

The interim constitution did not envisage a second CA poll, and in the absence of a Parliament, the only way to amend election related laws in the statute is if President Ram Baran Yadav uses his power to ‘remove obstacles’ based on a political consensus. The leadership of a new unity government which would hold polls is also up for grabs. With Maoists and NC ruling out any chance of supporting the leadership of the other party, there is speculation that a neutral figure — a former Chief Justice or civil society leader — may lead the election government.

The Maoist-led government, along with its Madhesi partners, had announced fresh polls to a CA on May 27 itself. But terming it as an ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘unilateral’ decision, the opposition parties had refused to accept the decision. In recent weeks however, several actors — including President Yadav, second-rung leaders of political parties, media and the international community — had nudged parties towards elections.

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