Plans to hold the elections for a second Constituent Assembly (CA) on November 19 received a shot in the arm on Thursday with a late-night deal between a dissenting group led by Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF)-Nepal and the political committee of major parties, which has agreed to increase the number of CA members elected through proportional representation to 58 per cent. The increase in seats allocated for the proportional representation of women, indigenous groups, Madhesis and Dalits also raise the size of the new Assembly to 585.

In return, Upendra Yadav, leader MJF, abandoned the demand for redrawing electoral constituencies based on population, and for the Chairman of the Interim Council of Ministers, who is also the titular Chief Justice, to resign from his latter post.

However, separate talks with two other dissenting groups led by the Federal Socialist Party and the splinter CPN-Maoists, have not reached a conclusion. Even the agreement with Mr. Yadav to leave the number of constituencies in the Madhes intact — currently 116 out of the 240 directly contested constituencies are in the Madhes — is being challenged by a fringe Madhes-based party. Sarita Giri, the President of Nepal Sadbhawana Party has been on a hunger strike in Kathmandu for the past four days demanding five more constituencies in the Madhes since more than 50 per cent of the population resides there.  

Last night’s agreement with MJF means that voter registration will be reopened for another two weeks (Ms. Giri wants four weeks), and Mr. Upendra Yadav, leader of the MJF-Nepal, will be inducted in the political committee. The parties have also committed to “work to form consensus on the fundamental principles of the new constitution”.

Although the increase in proportional representation meets a key demand of another dissenting group, the Federal Socialist Party (FSP), it has not yet committed to November 19. Mr. Ashok Rai, the Chairman of the FSP, says that the deal constitutes “partial progress”. Political analysts predict that the agreement with MJF-Nepal will create further pressure on the remaining dissenters, the FSP and the splinter Maoist party, to join the elections. In theory, Thursday night’s agreement also addresses, at least partially, a recurrent call from the Maoists to agree on the fundamentals of the new Constitution.

But it is not yet clear whether the splinter CPN-Maoist — which insists on a “roundtable conference” to form a new all-party government to hold the elections — intends to join the November 19 polls.  The CPN-Maoist has been in intermittent talks and, in a move that has been interpreted as positive by the CPN-Maoist, the four parties’ committee said on Wednesday that they are willing to postpone the elections if the splinter Maoists join the election process.