A new phase? Nepal's historic vote

Nepal voted on Sunday in the first phase of parliamentary elections under its new Constitution of 2015 and with the electoral battle lines redrawn in a recently altered political landscape. The first round was mostly concentrated in the upper hill regions, with the rest of the country scheduled to vote on December 7. Uniquely for Nepal’s highly fragmented party politics, these elections witness a direct battle between two fronts. The first, the “democratic alliance”, is led by the Nepali Congress and includes the former Panchayat parties and Madhesi groups; the second, the “left alliance”, brings together, in a surprise agreement hammered out in early October, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre). On the face of it, this is an electoral battle between the forces belonging to the centre-right and the centre-left, but to reduce it to an ideological battle would be misleading. The NC, the UML and the Maoists have been in power at various points in the last decade and have done little to distinguish themselves by way of implementing socio-economic policies or in terms of performance. The Constitution-writing process was completed in far too many fits and starts largely due to short-sighted battles for one-upmanship among these parties in Kathmandu since 2008. Populism dominates the ideological positions of the major parties and the politics of patronage has governed their engagement with the people. The consequence of this has been lack of movement on key issues facing the underdeveloped nation-state.

One such issue that dominated the political discourse in the last half-decade has been the need for decentralisation and representation of the marginalised communities. Madhesis and janajatis (tribals) have continued to claim that their demands for adequate state restructuring and federalism were not met in the new Constitution. The new electoral alliances have subsumed such differences — with the Maoists, who were willing to grant such demands for amendments to the new Constitution, joining hands with the UML, which is strongly opposed to any concessions. Similarly, the Naya Shakti Party, a fledgling socialist party, has broken away from the left alliance and aligned itself with the NC despite significant differences over state-restructuring and other issues. The political flux has meant that vital issues of economic development have remained largely unaddressed, belying hopes that Nepal’s transition from a monarchy to a republic would foreground the people’s concerns. The clear contest, for the first time, between two pre-poll alliances may finally give an ideological and political shape to the republican polity as a battle of ideas, and mark a break from the years of squabbling over positions of power in Kathmandu. Clearly, the voters are not cynical: the turnout in the first phase on November 26 was estimated to be 65%. The politicians must now deliver.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 12:27:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-new-phase/article21040642.ece

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