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Nepal: Lingering Problems
  • Nepal
The counting of votes under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system to elect 165 House of Representative (HoR) seats and 330 Provincial Assembly (PA) seats concluded on December 13, 2017, with the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) emerging as the single largest party. The CPN-UML won 80 HoR seats and 167 PA seats. Its ally, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-Maoist Center), bagged 36 HoR seats and 74 PA seats. The two parties, which had formed the Left Alliance, have left the governing Nepali Congress (NC) far behind. NC managed to claim only 23 HoR constituencies and 41 PA constituencies. The Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N) won 11 HoR and 16 PA seats, while the Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal (FSF-N) won 10 HoR and 24 PA seats. The Naya Shakti Party-Nepal (NSP-N), Nepal Workers Peasants Party (NWPP), Rastriya Janamorcha, Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and an independent candidate emerged victorious in one HoR constituency each. In PA elections, independent candidates registered wins in three constituencies, NSP-N and Rastriya Janamorcha in two each, and NWPP in one. 

Vote counting under the proportional representation (PR) system concluded on December 17, 2017, with the CPN-UML set to win the largest number of PR seats in the HoR. Out of 49 parties that contested PR elections, only five - the CPN-UML, the NC, CPN-Maoist Center, the FSF-N and the RJP-N - were able to secure three per cent votes, the required threshold to be recognized as national parties. Among the five parties, the CPN-UML got 3,173,494 votes, followed by NC's 3,128,389, CPN-Maoist Center's 1,303,721, RJP-N's 472,254 and FSF-N's 270,201 votes. Of the total of 275 members in Parliament, 110 will be elected under the PR category while 165 have already been elected through the FPTP electoral system. Experts estimate that the CPN-UML will get 41 seats, NC 40 seats, CPN-Maoist Center 17 seats and RJP-N and FSF-N six seats each. However, EC Spokesperson Navaraj Dhakal stated on December 17, 2017, `The final results of the PR category will be made public only after verifying the poll results. It may take some time to announce the number of seats won by the five parties under the PR category.`

HoR and PA elections were held in two phases after a gap of 18 years. The first phase for 37 HoR and 74 PA seats was held across 32 Hill Districts in six Provinces on November 26, 2017. 65 per cent of 3.19 million voters cast their votes. Voting for the remaining seats was held on December 7, 2017, in the second phase covering 45 Districts, including Kathmandu valley and the southern plains of Nepal known as the Terai. 70 per cent of the 12.21 million voters cast their votes in the second phase. This is for the first time that elections for HoR and PA are being conducted under the new Constitution adopted on September 20, 2015. The last parliamentary poll was held in 1999.

After the conclusion of the elections, the Carter Center, Election Observation Mission (EOM), Nepal at a Press meet in the capital, Kathmandu, on December 9, 2017, commented that the elections held in two phases were completed successfully despite political tensions, logistical, operational and security challenges and tight timelines. Similarly, on December 10, 2017, the European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission (EOM) also noted that the EC successfully organized the logistics of the election in two phases in a very short timeframe. Separately, domestic election observation agencies including the National Election Observation Committee (NOEC), General Election Observation Committee (GEOC) and Inclusive Women Network for Peace, Justice and Democracy, issue a joint press statement on December 12, 2017, remarking that, despite the short period provided for preparations and incidents aimed at undermining the independence of election, political parties, general voters and citizens participated enthusiastically. 

Some violent incidents were, nevertheless, reported during the polls. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 17 persons were injured in six incidents of bomb explosion and another 15 were injured in six incidents of clashes between political parties during the first phase. One person was killed and 26 were injured in five incidents of bomb explosion, and another six were injured in three incidents of clashes during the second phase. 

Expectedly, CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli and CPN-Maoist Centre Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal during a meeting in Kathmandu, on December 15, 2017, agreed to initiate the processes of forming a new Government and unifying their parties simultaneously. Earlier, prioritizing Government formation rather than party unification, senior CPN-Maoist Center leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha had stated, on December 12, 2017, that leaders of the two parties had agreed to form the new Government by mid-January and pursue merger afterwards. According to Shrestha, before the parties unite they need to draft the merged party's ideology document and finalize party structure and organization, all of which was quite time consuming.

On the other hand, NC and the CPN-UML are at odds as to whether the new Prime Minister should be elected prior to the formation of the National Assembly (NA), the upper house of Parliament. CPN-UML claims that the new Prime Minister can be appointed by the President even prior to the election of the Upper House. But NC, which has met with a humiliating defeat in the just concluded polls, insists that Parliament can't take full shape without the election of the Upper House. NC leaders are also urging the EC to ensure at least 33 percent women's representation in Parliament as a whole, including HoR and NA, arguing that if a sufficient number of women lawmakers are not elected to NA, the EC needs to ask political parties to make up the shortfall from the Lower House. 

Meanwhile, terming the NC's claim invalid, former Law Minister and CPN-UML leader Agni Kharel stated, on December 14, 2017, `Article 86 (1A) of the Constitution has a mandatory provision that at least three women must be elected from each of the seven provinces, which will be enough to ensue 33 percent women in the National Assembly. So why should the EC wait for the PR seat allocations? The new government, immediately after it is formed, will bring in the law for election of the National Assembly. So we shouldn't engage in a procedural dispute over the formation of the new government.` 

Lawyers are also divided on whether NA elections should be held before the formation of the new Government or after. Senior Advocate Surendra Kumar Mahato and General Secretary of Nepal Bar Association Khamma Bahadur Khati observed, on December 14, 2017, that according to Article 84 (8) of the Constitution, if any party failed to ensure 33 per cent women's representation in Parliament through the parliamentary and NA elections, such a party would be required to elect its PR members in such a way that could ensure 33 per cent women in the Parliament. He argued that the EC could announce the final results of PR elections only after NA elections were held. Meanwhile, Advocate Dipendra Jha argyed that since the current Government had suffered a debacle in the polls, it would be better if the new Government brought a new law to govern the Upper House elections. 

CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli held a meeting with President Bidhya Devi Bhandari on December 15, 2017, to discuss the National Assembly Election Ordinance. The National Assembly Members Election Bill was supposed to have been passed by Parliament on October 4, 2017. As the CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre were against the Bill, the Government was forced to withdraw it. However, on October 24, 2017, the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led Government issued the National Assembly Election Ordinance, which contains the provision of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system. The Ordinance has been pending at the Office of the President due to a dispute between parties over the electoral system. 

The governing NC is in favour of adopting the STV system, while the Left Alliance of the CPN-UML and the CPN-Maoist Centre, the victors in the recent polls, are making a pitch for the majoritarian system. Under the STV system, a quota is first determined and whichever candidate gets the number of votes to meet the quota gets elected, while the remaining votes are transferred to the next preferable candidate. However, under the majoritarian system, whichever candidate gets the highest number of votes gets elected, as in the first-past-the-post system. According to political analyst Hari Roka, `This (STV system) might slightly benefit the Nepali Congress which has less number of seats in local units and provincial assemblies.` The Left Alliance has won is over 60 percent seats in the PA. In local level elections, CPN-UML won 295 seats, while the NC won in 265. CPN-Maoist Centre stood third, winning 107 local units. 

Meanwhile, ignoring the objections by the Left Alliance, the Deuba-led Government announced on December 15, 2017, that it was preparing to appoint Governors in seven provinces within a week. However, CPN-Maoist Centre Chairman Dahal in a meeting with Prime Minister Deuba at his official residence in Kathmandu on December 16, 2017, urged Deuba to make political and constitutional appointments only on the basis of an agreement among the three major political parties. Stating that the elections had given a new mandate, the CPN-Maoist Centre Chairman urged the Prime Minister not to make the political appointments, including that of the State Governors. Dahal also asked Prime Minister Deuba to initiate discussions among the major parties for a way out on the issue of NA elections. Similarly, accusing the NC of disrespecting and refusing to accept the people's mandate, CPN-UML Chairman Oli observed on December 16, 2017, `The NC has indicated that it is reluctant to accept the popular mandate by raising the issue of legal hurdles. It is not appropriate to wrongly use and define a respected institution.` He also remarked that the NC tabled an unconstitutional ordinance on the NA election so as to suit its own interests, following their electoral defeat in the local level elections.

After centuries of absolute monarchy followed by decades of chaos, Nepal is taking to democracy in a big way. Though the final result is yet to be announced for the two phases of the polls, the winner is clear - a coalition of two communist parties, the CPN-UML and the CPN-Maoist Centre, who are set to control the Government. However, issue, including the NA election, persist.
S. Binodkumar Singh  Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management