After ten years of violence, the Maoists, the political parties, and the royal family have agreed on a roadmap for the future of Nepal: a Constituent Assembly (CA) in 2008. The CA plan required many long meetings, boycotts, riots and lives before all the three key players in Nepal could agree on a set of rules. The eventual compromise was a win-win solution for everyone. The political parties had their demands for elections met, the Maoists were able to induct direct representation in the elections, and the royal family was allowed to continue till after the CA when the charge will be given to elected representatives to decide on Nepal’s status as the only Hindu monarchy in the world.
However, a Pandora’s Box of pitfalls can be sensed. There are over 70 different political parties competing in the elections to be held on April 10 for only 17.5 million eligible voters. As the elections near, more and more parties are forming strategic alliances. While this is a good step forward, it will not be enough. With only two weeks left and the presence of many ideologically opposing alliances, consensus in the parliament may be hard to reach. The parliament may not be able to elect a prime minister in time and even if it does, the elected prime minister will have to give into the demands of many of the coalition parties. History has suggested that large-coalition prime ministers are highly unstable.
The royal family too has its survival on the line. It is possible that they may use their funds, which outweigh the resources of any of the political parties, and may be extremely influential in the outcome of the elections. They can choose from a host of options. Analysts have suggested that the royal family will partially sponsor campaigns for pro-kingdom political parties. It is also expected that there will be some manipulation of the elections by influential players. With the country experiencing mixed sentiments right now, it is possible for the royal family to continue to be the ‘rulers’ of Nepal.
The last scenario includes the notorious Maoists in the equation. The Maoists are the biggest hindrance in the roadmap and are likely to win a fair number of seats. In the event they do come into power, which would require forming major alliances and some manipulation of the electoral process, they will start trying army commanders who had given orders to fight against them in the Nepalese Civil War and will be vindictive. Given their pro-violence mentality and their terrible record of human rights, the Maoists may bring more instability to the country.
One of the ways to ensure that Nepal does not end up in a Kenya-like situation is to ensure credible elections that are free and fair. For this to happen, the world has to increase the international observers being sent to Nepal and start training more Nepalese to help in this process. The 50 promised by The Carter Center and 60 by the UN are mere peanuts that will hardly help. The international observers have also not been inducting local Nepalese to act as their observers in remote and unsafe-for-foreigners locations. In addition, international pressure should be put on the royal family not to interfere in the electoral process in any way. International media, especially TV channels, should increase their coverage in Nepal to supplement the local papers.
The presence of international observers and media will greatly reduce the possibility of election manipulation and bolster the credibility of the results. The world must do its part in assisting an infant democracy in its transition.
However the responsibility of bringing about a peaceful transition rests with the political forces in Nepal. While the pre-election campaigning has been peaceful in most districts, the UN mission in Nepal has reported a surge in clashes between opposition groups. The clashes are expected to rise in the upcoming days. If any of the losing major political parties adopts a bad loser face and refuses to accept the mandate of the people the country may erupt into chaos once again. Let’s hope the Nepalese have learned from their past experiences and news headlines from around the world.
Samad Khurram ’09 is a government concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.