In a replay of the run-up to the first Constituent Assembly elections in 2008, the battle for proportional representation is on again in Nepal — delaying the passing of laws necessary to elect the new CA.

The tussle comes a year after the parties let the last CA lapse without convening it in its final days, ostensibly due to the party leaders’ failure to agree on a federal model.

“Our fear is that the composition of the new Assembly will be more regressive, less inclusive, and more anti-federal,” said Dipendra Jha, an advocate at the Supreme Court. Mr. Jha recently challenged the major parties’ plans to hold elections without first delineating the constituencies based on the latest census. Following the Court’s intervention, the government is understood to be preparing to announce a constituency delineation committee soon after the election laws are finalised.

Draft law

A draft version of the laws to govern the formation of the new CA reduces the number of lawmakers from the previous 601 to 491, which critics say will reduce the presence of women, Madhesis, Dalits and indigenous groups. The provision prompted the UCPN (Maoist) and several Madhes-based parties to change their stance — they had earlier signed an agreement, together with the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML, to reduce the size of the new CA. The last CA was criticised for being too burdensome on the national treasury.

A cross-party coalition of women is also worried about reduced representation. A CPN-UML lawmaker and leader of the Women’s Caucus on the last CA, Ushakala Rai, told The Hindu that women will reject the election and “launch a struggle” if the parties reduces women’s representation to below 33 per cent.

“Women want proportional representation not only in the new Assembly, but also the political mechanism making all decisions these days,” said Ms. Rai.

Disagreements among the parties on election laws have been responsible for the delay in announcing poll dates. Though the Chief Justice-led government was formed in March with declared goals of holding elections by mid-June, the four parties are aiming for a date around November.

Other issues

Two other issues — whether to bar parties that garner less than a one-per-cent “threshold” of total votes, a provision opposed by fringe parties; and whether to allow those with criminal cases against them to file candidacy — have complicated the negotiations. Given the differences, UCPN (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ has suggested reverting to the election laws from 2008.

But that suggestion is not acceptable to all. “We want to address the inclusion issues without raising the size of the Assembly from 491,” said Shankar Pokhrel, secretary of the CPN-UML. This is a stance echoed by leaders of the Nepali Congress as well.

Analysts say the battle over representation reflects the parties’ desire to prevent coalitions of minorities in the future CA, which in its last incarnation saw women, Dalit and indigenous caucuses ready to defy party orders on key constitutional issues.