The results of the elections to Nepal’s second Constituent Assembly are yet to fully come out but there is little doubt that the Nepali Congress is set to become the single largest party, followed by the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist). The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which won a majority of the seats in the 2008 election, has been routed and is expected to win fewer than a hundred places in the 601-seat House. The first Constituent Assembly had to be dissolved after it failed in its task of framing a Constitution even after its tenure was extended four times. Last week’s election was originally scheduled for November 2012 but was postponed repeatedly. The instability in Nepal belied the promise of the peace process that ended the Maoist insurgency and brought the rebels into the political mainstream. The Maoists have blamed their defeat in the election on electoral fraud and have demanded a probe. But the extent of the rout shows that it is more likely an expression of popular disillusionment and anger against the former rebels. Seen as the establishment of the past five years, they took the brunt of the blame for the dismal governance and inability to deliver a Constitution to the people, even though this was a collective failure of all parties. Nepali voters had rewarded the Maoists in 2008 because they were unhappy with the nepotism, opportunism and corruption of the traditional forces. With the Maoists copying the worst of these tendencies, voters saw no reason to give them another chance. The 2012 split in the party also cost the Maoists heavily.
The challenge for Nepal’s fractious political forces now is to make the fresh start provided by the election work. It is encouraging that after an initial threat to boycott the new Assembly, the Maoists have been more conciliatory; the victorious NC and the CPN (UML) have enough seats between them for government formation but they have expressed the readiness to consider the Maoist demand for a “government of consensus”. If Nepal is to go down this route again, the power sharing negotiations will hopefully avoid last time’s pitfalls. A national unity government will certainly help the Assembly’s main task of Constitution making, which Nepal’s political forces have agreed must be based on consensus. The last Assembly unravelled over the Maoist proposal, supported by Madhesi parties but opposed by the NC and the CPN(UML), to divide Nepal into identity-based federal units. This time, the parties have promised that they will ready a Constitution within a year. This can be achieved only through mutual accommodation. If there is a role for India, it should be to counsel the victors against triumphalism and the losers against playing the spoiler.