DhakaTribune
Tuesday January 23, 2018 02:06 AM

Nepal in a new world

  • Published at 07:05 PM January 13, 2018
  • Last updated at 03:01 AM January 14, 2018
Nepal in a new world
Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli has a tough road aheadREUTERS

Nepal has successfully carried out free and fair elections, and that’s no small feat

Last year was a year of elections for Nepal. A surprise alliance of former Maoist fighters and the Communist Party in Nepal has created not only a debacle for the Nepali Congress Party but generated a surprise with their national election results in Nepal in December 2017.

Elections were held at different levels. Implementation of this process required a three-phased process. Local, provincial, and parliamentary — all by the end of 2017. The three-phased polls were initiated through elections of local government officials.

This was soon followed by two-phased elections for provincial assemblies and the lower house of the parliament.

These phased elections engaged the entire government machinery. Over 200,000 security personnel were also employed in this prolonged expensive exercise.

It needs to be noted that the Nepalese electoral process is indeed multi-faceted. The total number of voters involved in the last two phases — provincial and national — were about 15.4 million, divided into 7.7 million male voters and about 7.65 million female voters.

The complex nature is reflected through the fact that there are seven provinces with 77 electoral Districts, 275 members to the House of Representatives and 550 members to the provincial assembly. They are elected to these seats and decided upon through first-past-the-post system and also through proportional representation.

In the House of Representatives (the lower house) 165 are elected through first-past-the post system and 110 are elected through proportional representation. In the National Assembly (upper house), 59 members are elected — 56 by the electoral college and three are appointed by the president.

The first phase was held on November 26. There were 282 candidates for 37 federal parliament seats and 420 candidates for 74 provincial assembly seats.

The last phase election was held on December 7. There were 1,663 candidates for 128 federal parliament seats and 2,819 candidates for 256 provincial assembly seats.

The other interesting factor was that of these, according to Nepalese election process, 110 federal parliament seats and 220 provincial assembly seats were decided on the basis of the proportional representation system.

Nepal, a small Himalayan State, has enhanced its national relevance in the recent past due to its geographical location. This has endowed it with a particular triangular geo-strategic paradigm — being sandwiched between two important regional powers — India and China.

This latest national Nepalese election has brought forth a different matrix than what was expected. Nepal’s left alliance comprising of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and the Nepal Communist Party-Marxist Centre thrashed the Nepali Congress Party. The Left Alliance as a political marriage of convenience won the struggle. The Left Alliance ended up with 113 out of the 165 parliamentary seats.

Analysts have interpreted the failure of the Nepalese Congress Party as partially being due to their government, for the better part of the year, doing little towards the amelioration of the suffering of the people.

One should have faith in the people of Nepal being able to overcome existing challenges

Critics like Subina Shreshtha have alleged that the process of governance not only generally stagnated, but there was also escalation in corruption. According to them, development projects were also mostly on hold and survivors of the Gurkha earthquake continued to languish in neglect, as state authorities prioritised polls over everything else.

Nevertheless, some of them have also agreed that the Leftist Alliance has not as yet come up with a workable agenda, and are still relying on “illusive slogans of development and prosperity” consistent with the usual socialist propaganda.

It looks like that the next Nepalese Prime Minister — the UML chieftain Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli — will have a complex scenario ahead of him. He began his political career as a Maoist in the early 1970s in Jhapa across the border with India’s West Bengal State.

At that time he is reputed to have shared views contained in slogans like “China’s chairman is our chairman and China’s path is our path” that permeated the air in neighbouring West Bengal. However, Oli is supposed to have embraced revisionism early on and by 1990s had begun to reclaim hyper-nationalist rhetoric. The media generally believes that he is a good orator, but not necessarily always with consistent democratic convictions.

Similarly, the Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda is known to be a rank populist with fungible beliefs. In 2000, he was well-known for his anti-revisionist beliefs, but later on appears to have evolved as a revisionist himself.

It needs to be noted that India is worried about this latest evolving situation in Nepal. This development is being seen against the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Beijing consensus dynamics exemplified through the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.

Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh have all joined the connective OBOR concept aimed at investing in infrastructural projects as a part of President Xi’s peripheral diplomacy doctrine with China at its centre. It is understood that both Oli and Prachand will now try to attract enough Chinese investment for improving Nepalese infrastructure.

This is expected to include building of the trans-Himalayan railways and hydroelectric projects modelled after the Three Gorges dam. This will mean that the economy of Nepal, unlike the past, will be looking northwards for more sustenance.

Indian economists are, however, reminding the Nepalese authorities that they need to be careful about the future dynamics. They are pointing out that massive loans in particular, require financial feasibility, political stability and sovereign guarantees. Attention is being drawn to the fact that apart from hydroelectric potential, Nepal itself presents a high-risk enterprise in an earthquake-prone zone.

They are also drawing attention to the fact that Nepal has little-proven resource of exportable quantity and quality. Hints are also being given that in the Madhesh plains, where the electorate has largely rejected the Left Alliance and endorsed the agenda of constitutional amendments, political stability may turn out to be illusory.

The attention of Nepal is also being drawn to the fact that over one-third of the Nepalese economy is based on remittances from unskilled and low-skilled labourers working as expatriates in volatile conditions.

Consequently, the new Nepalese political administration is being reminded that sovereign guarantees of an externally dependent economy may not eventually turn out to be anything more than geo-political significance. Warnings are also being given that departure from the traditional path which has guided India-Nepal relations for the past century might encourage India to take measures to protect its traditional sphere of influence.

Commentators have, however, pointed out that, in the context of Nepalese foreign relations, it will be difficult to continue the idea of equidistance in that country’s relations with India and China. Difficulties are bound to emerge in the spheres of cultural compatability, economic tenability. It may be recalled that the last Nepalese King Gyanendra discovered this not only to be true, but also disastrous for him diplomatically.

Despite all these issues, one should have faith in the people of Nepal being able to overcome existing challenges. We must not forget that Nepal, a federal state according to their new constitution passed in 2015, has been able to successfully carry out free and fair elections in all the three levels of government.

This has been a “significant achievement.” This was also its first parliamentary election since 1999. Now a multi-party federal democratic republic and a parliamentary form of government will be in effect.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]

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