SPEAKING FREELY Nepalese voters make their demands
By Gyan Basnet
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
In Nepal, last month's election was conducted in a peaceful manner. Despite much uncertainty, dilemma, drama and distrust, the people successfully voted to elect a Constituent Assembly (CA) for the second time. The first CA, elected in 2008, had failed to write a constitution in four years and was dissolved in 2012. That plunged the country into a period of deep political and economic uncertainty and left it socially divided.
The people were disappointed and frustrated by the failure of the political parties and their leaders not only to deliver a new
constitution but to complete the peace process and, most importantly, to secure a way out for a war-torn country.
Results confirmed on December 1 showed that the centrist Nepali Congress party, the country's oldest party, and the left-of-center Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) won 196 and 175 seats out of the 601 up for grabs. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) won just 80 seats, a major fall since it won the vote in 2008 with 220.
It is no wonder that this time the people's enthusiasm to exercise their franchise was palpable. Moreover, the Election Commission and various independent observers declared the election to have been peaceful despite a few inter-party clashes and some vandalism. People were excited but remained calm and well behaved, and there was a huge participation for the first time by the younger generation. At least Nepal appears to be learning more about democracy and the norms and values of political culture.
Throughout, the Nepali people showed considerable personal resilience in turning out in large numbers to vote. They refused to be put off despite threats of violence from parties opposed to the poll and from explosions, some of which occurred near to polling centers. Those same people have spoken out loud and clear that they are prepared to give the unfinished task of transition a further go.
However, there are many questions that the country needs to think very seriously. For instance, will the new Assembly be capable of making history? Will it be capable of completing the unfinished business? Will the political parties, especially the winners, be capable of rising above partisan politics or, rather, above partisan politics and their own selfish individual interests? Can the new assembly generate the social harmony and national unity required to end the current political transition? Can it at last bring political stability to the nation?
Most importantly, what are the underlying indications behind the election result? What do people really want? What messages did the people wish to convey through their vote? What should be done now? How should the political parties and their leaders behave? Are they going to behave any better than in the past? The grand election and the participation of the people in record numbers indicate many things as I shall now seek to show.
Firstly, the turnout was a hugely positive response to those who were against the election or to those who argued that it would not actually happen. The people turned out to vote in record numbers. According to the Election Commission's figures, more than 70% of the electorate cast their votes. They even lined up to do so from early morning - voting started at 7 am - regardless of the cold and the widespread fear of violence. At most polling stations, over half of the votes had been cast by midday.
It appeared that the popular statement of old "I hate politics" had at this time in the country suddenly been transformed into "I like politics". The enthusiastic turnout of young first-time voters alone bears testimony to that, and the theory that people had grown tired of politics was certainly proved wrong.
The message is clear: the people want to clean up the dirty politics that have persisted in the country for too long. They clearly demonstrated that they have tremendous faith in democracy and that they are willing to give the political parties a second chance.
Secondly, it showed that Nepalese people were tired of and frustrated by the long political transition and instability that they have experienced. In this election, people were not just casting their vote because they had a fundamental right to do so but because they wanted it to be known that they were demanding permanent peace, prosperity, political stability and social justice.
That demand now becomes a command from the people to the political parties to complete the unfinished business of tackling political instability, poverty, inequality and social injustice in the country. It is a command to end the evil practice of corruption and the unholy nexus between the mafia and politicians that they have suffered for centuries.
People wish to free themselves from bad politicians and from those with whom they associate. Most importantly, they wish urgently to exorcise the ghosts of the war years, and they wish to see the peace process completed as soon as possible.
Thirdly, the outcome of the election conveys a clear message that the people are supreme and that nothing is stronger than the power of the people. It provides a supreme legitimate people's body that has a duty now to enable the country to move forward after a decade of political turmoil and to end the on-going constitutional and political crisis.
The country should now no longer be forced to rely on the Supreme Court or on unconstitutional presidential decrees. Most importantly, the election result should put an end to unethical, irresponsible and unaccountable illegitimate bureaucratic government. It conveys a clear message that government should be firmly based on the separation of powers and on the rule of law and that there should be an ending of the culture of impunity and lawlessness. It is therefore a victory by and for the people aimed at establishing a durable peace in the country.
There can now be no turning back from republican, secularism and genuine federalism. The result of the election strongly rejects identity-based federalism, and the voting pattern shows that Nepal is united and will remain united.
Fourthly, the turnout of voters in record numbers indicates that that the people have genuine hopes and positive expectations. As a nation they are right to hope for prosperity, social solidarity and a great political future. Nepalese are now more politically mature than before: Nepalese are, in fact, more politically aware than ever in their history. The people of Nepal have learned more about political culture, tolerance and the political process itself. The election and its outcome prove that the people know their rights and that democracy is more than just exercising a voting right.
They indicate, too, that people did not vote simply for a leader or even for an ideology that would catapult one into post: people voted also to secure a greater and brighter future for our coming generation. People voted to secure a better future not only for their sons, daughters and grand-children, but also, of course, for themselves. However, will the assembly take note of this and act accordingly? Can providing a bundle of constitution papers alone be sufficient if it ignores other parameters such as economic and social factors?
Finally, the election and its outcome indicate that no political party (or its leadership) can survive unless it alters its attitude in line with the changed sentiments of the people, especially those of the younger generation. The Maoist party notably failed to win over the hearts and minds of the people because of its wrong agenda of identity-based federalism, its limited democratic culture and tolerance, its excessive corruption, and its unholy compromises in order to grab power.
Most important of all are its complex contradictions between theory and practice and between promising and actually achieving. The declaration and decision of the Pushpa Kamal Dahal, aka Prachanda,- Maoist supremo- neither to accept the outcome of the election nor to participate in the new Assembly is most undemocratic and shows great disrespect for the will of the people. It proves also that the party lacks knowledge of even the minimal features of democracy. What then should the country expect from them, from their leadership and from their party?
There is a great fear that the country may see a repeat of the evil practices in Nepalese politics that occurred in parliament while Nepali Congress and United Marxist and Leninist (UML) were running the country for nearly two decades. Money, muscles, mafia and all means - moral and immoral, legal and illegal, constitutional and unconstitutional - were used to implement policy and to hold on to power. To some extent, their political attitudes and behavior even enhanced and fueled the 10-year long civil war.
They moreover failed to demonstrate a minimum democratic culture. History was full of failures while they were in the power. Now these same two parties have the people's mandate to run the country. They are going to be at the centre of Nepalese politics for at least a few years ahead.
Will they have learnt from their own history of failure or past mistakes? Will they be happy to change their evil attitudes? Will they again stoop to kharid-bikiri (bribing) of MPs in order to defeat their own government or opposition? Do they have the courage to accept these facts? If they do not change their attitude but show the same mentality in the Assembly, the future of the country could be at stake. Positive change within is the essential departure point for them now.
Drafting a new constitution is primarily intended to end the long on-going political transition in Nepal. The new constitution should certainly act as a pathfinder and a milestone for the nation. However, success or failure of the new Assembly will depend very much on the behavior of the party leaders especially those of the larger parties. In this respect the level of tolerance, cooperation, solidarity, political maturity and sincerity will be particularly relevant.
Majority leaders must be able to listen to and show respect for the voices of the opposition, and the latter must be seen to be included in the political process. The thinking and actions of the political parties must stem from a common vision, common agenda and common interest. The country must survive first as a single Nepalese nation, and they must survive together. This is what the CA has been elected for and must now aim for.
The new assembly must adopt a clear vision, program and agenda from the very beginning. It must not take long to form a government with power-sharing based on mutual understanding, cooperation and solidarity. The national interest must dominate all thinking, and drafting the constitution must be given the highest of priorities.
However, the aims and ambitions of the new assembly must not be confined to writing a constitution: it must also formulate comprehensive reform agendas on economic and social issues including addressing the abuses of the war-era and punishing the culprits thereof. The new assembly must be the means of bringing the long divided society back together.
It must be able to re-unite the different segments of their society and must be able to hear the voices of all layers and levels in that society. It must be able to play the role of the voice of voiceless and it must be able to write a golden history. It must play the role of emancipator, reformer and liberator of the people. It must be able to serve a common dream and a common purpose of all. This is what people have demanded by voting. The people wish to see the start of a new peaceful and progressive era in our country.
The great people of Nepal acted sincerely and wisely at this time. Through participation in the grand-election, they proved that there is no finer alternative to democracy than even deeper democracy. The election and its outcome have proved that under such democracy real power can lie with the people.
The political forces that dreamed of ruling the country with guns have been defeated. The people were the real winners of this election, and they are eager now to see results quickly. I implore the new assembly's elected leaders and its members to eschew purely ideological and individual interests in favor of those of the nation as a whole. The clear mandate of the people is to prepare a constitution that will ensure justice for all country's citizens both now and in the future.
The people must all hope that their valuable votes will not be taken as a license for the few politicians or big bosses of the political parties to mortgage the country, its future and its future generations for their own personal gain.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Gyan Basnet holds a PhD and an LL M degree in International Human Rights Law at Lancaster University, UK, is a Columnist, Lecturer & Researcher in International Human Rights Law and a Human Rights and Constitutional Law Lawyer in the Supreme Court and Subordinate Court of Nepal. Email: email@example.com.