With the Election Commission’s mid-August deadline — to settle political negotiations to hold the elections for a second Constituent Assembly (CA) on November 19 — on time, parties in Nepal intensified negotiations this week to bring the dissenting parties on board.
“The roulette wheel is turning, we’ll find out by Sunday where the ball lands,” said Upendra Yadav, whose party Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) has been asking for the Chairman of the Council of Ministers to resign as Chief Justice; to raise the number for proportional representation in the proposed Assembly to be 58 per cent; to reopen the voter registration drive to include approximately four million eligible voters currently missing from the voter roll; and to delineate the constituencies based on population.
Similar demands have been raised by another dissenting party, the Federal Socialist Party (FSP), which wants the government to make provision for Nepalis residing abroad to vote; and has called for an “all party conference” to guide the country’s political future until the elections are held.
“If polls are held under the status quo, the country will return to conflict,” warned Mr. Yadav, echoed by FSP. Both parties are vying for concessions to improve their electoral arithmetic.
The four parties in the “High Level Political Mechanism (HLPC)” that formed the current Chief Justice-led election government are understood to be inclined to get the dissenting parties on board by raising the seats allocated for proportional representation of marginalised groups — a key demand — and by reopening voter registration drive. In public, the HLPC members say any demand short of removing the government and changing the election date can be entertained.
However, the biggest obstacle to the four parties’ plans to hold elections on November 19, a plan backed by New Delhi, refuses to budge. Reacting to repeated overtures from the HLPC, the splinter CPN-Maoist and its partners on Tuesday submitted 18 demands, ranging from formation of a government to a fully proportional election system, for them to participate in the polls.
Politicians active in recent negotiations say that the splinter-Maoists have been calling for the election date to be postponed to March, a demand rejected by the HLPC members. The group also wants the parties to agree on the fundamentals of new Constitution before heading for the polls.
Members of HLPC have said they support, in principle, the idea of “all party conference”, although it looks unlikely, and are ready to shift the election date by a few days to get the splinter Maoists on board. But they worry whether the demands are merely a ploy by the splinter Maoists to postpone elections — a worry exacerbated by the fact the party has refused in principle to agree that Nepal’s new Constitution should be written by a Constituent Assembly (CA) alone.
“We must be willing to shift the election date to March if the splinter Maoist party makes a principled commitment to participate in the election,” says Narayan Kaji Shrestha, former Deputy Prime Minister and a Maoist leader. “If they still refuse, they will be isolated and will have to answer to the people.”