Guerrillas and Elections in Nepal: Maoists ahead

In the counting for last week’s constituent assembly election in Nepal, the Maoist ex-guerrillas are ahead. They apparently have won a majority or large plurality of the single-seat districts in the parallel/MMM system: 116 of the 212 for which counting is complete. ((There are 240 SSDs in total, and counts from more remote areas may take another week.))

The PR-list votes are not all known, but so far the Maoists are well ahead, though with less than a third of the votes: 32.5%, with the runner-up Nepali Congress at 22.5% and the Communist Party of Nepal at 21.5%. ((Both Congress and Communists are established parties that have ruled before.))

Back to the nominal (SSD) tier: Congress has just 33 wins so far and the Communists have 29. If the party-list votes and nominal-tier seats breakdowns reported so far are close to the final shape of the election, it is quite a remarkable result. The Maosists presumably would have won a lot of districts (and perhaps many close races) around the country, rather than primarily in regional strongholds.

Source for preliminary results: Hindustan Times, 15 April.
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Nepal: Closed list procedures

From eKantipur, in Nepal (full text):

PR system closed list procedures ready

BY BISHNU BUDHATHOKI

KATHMANDU, Feb 11 – The Election Commission has outlined procedures for political parties regarding the naming of the closed list of candidates for 335 seats under the proportional electoral system for Constituent Assembly (CA) election.

It has also invited all 74 recognized political parties at a program on Monday for briefing on the procedures.

To contest election under the proportional electoral system, a party has to submit a list of at least 34 candidates. Of the 34 candidates, at least six candidates may be entered as common candidates representing different groups whereas a party contesting all the 335 seats could have 54 under the common group.

If any political party wants to submit the closed list to contest for minimum seats, it must ensure 11 seats for Madhesis, five for Dalits, 13 for janajatis, one for backward regions, 10 under ‘others’ and 17 for women. Whereas, if any party wants to contest all the 335 seats, it must ensure 104 seats for Madhesis, 44 for Dalits, 127 for indigenous groups, 13 for backwards regions, 101 for others and 168 for women.

As the number of candidates represent more than one group, the sum of the percentage of candidates of all groups appears to be more than one hundred. Citing this complication, the EC has defined the procedures saying that a candidate may belong to more than one group; for example, a dalit woman from Madhes would be counted under several categories — woman, Madhesi, and dalit.

If any party wins at least 25 seats under the PR, it must allocate at least seven seats for Madhesis, three for Dalits, nine for indigenous groups, one for backward regions, seven for others and 12 for women. The proportion would increase with higher wins. The law has also provided ten percent elbow for the central executive committee of political parties.

In case the political party fails to comply with the requirements listed above, the EC will request the concerned party to make necessary amendments within seven days and meet the requirements specified in the legal provisions.

Posted on: 2008-02-10 21:36:59 (Server Time)

Nepal Maoists give up on full PR system

As has been widely reported this week, Nepal’s political parties, including the demobilized Maoist rebels, have signed an accord that will abolish the nation’s monarchy. As part of a 23-point deal, ((Or 22 points, or 20 points, depending on the news sources one wants to believe.)) the Maoists also agreed to drop their demands for full proportional representation, AFP reports.

The pact paves the way for declaring the country a federal democratic republic immediately by amending the interim constitution — but the move will be ratified only after constituent assembly elections set for April…

Elections to the assembly that will shape the impoverished nation’s political future were postponed twice due to wrangling ((I always love how the media refer to political bargaining as “wrangling.”)) over Maoist demands that the electoral system be reformed and the monarchy abolished immediately…

Instead of a 497-member assembly, the country will have 601. Some 335 will be elected by proportional representation and 240 using the first-past-the-post system. The parties will nominate a total of 26 members. ((Other sources say these 26 will be appointed by the Cabinet, or by the Prime Minister; the purpose it to represent “the ethnic and indigenous groups who are not represented in the first-past-the post and the proportional system, according to the proposed bill,” reports The Rising Nepal.))

That is a big assembly for a country of under 30 million. I assume that will not be the size of the permanent legislative assembly; it is not uncommon for countries to have constituent assemblies much larger than their legislatures. ((The Rising Nepal (previous footnote) quotes Amod Prasad Upadhyay of Nepali Congress as saying, “Though the size of the CA will be huge, it will be able to encompass all the underprivileged groups.”))

Left unclear (to me) is whether the system is MMM or MMP. ((Jack, at The Democratic Piece, previously noted the confusion and conflicting reports on such important details of the electoral system being discussed.)) I am guessing the former. The Maoists have wanted PR (preferring no nominal tier, I believe), because of uncertainty about their own political strength and concerns about the ability of the established parties to gerrymander or malapportion in favor of their (more known) areas of strength. The existing parties presumably do not want nationwide PR (with or without a nominal tier) because of fears that the Maoists could inflate their vote in their zones of control, thereby favoring themselves in the total national seat balance. Either MMM or a variant of MMP with a small and/or regionalized list tier would be obvious compromises.

Meanwhile, Hindu News Update Service reports that:

Leaders in Nepal’s Terai plains have dismissed the agreement among the Seven-Party Alliance that paves the way for a new political and electoral system as “nothing but a power-sharing deal”, unlikely to address the problems of the Madhesi community in the region…

Two factions of the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) and the Rajendra Mahato-led Sadbhavana Party said the SPA pact to increase the number of seats under the proportional electoral system and the process for declaring Nepal a federal republic would not address the problems faced by the people living in the Terai plains bordering India.

From a later paragraph it seems that these groups do not object to the PR seats, per se (as the above implies), but to there not being enough of them.

“Key demands of these groups like a fully proportional electoral system and an autonomous Madhesh state with the right to self-determination under a federal structure have been completely ignored,” B P Yadav, the group’s general secretary was quoted as saying by the Kantipur online Monday.

“Turning a blind eye towards the need for addressing the demands of the armed groups operating in the Terai cannot ensure polls,” he said, stressing the agreement was nothing but a power-sharing deal.

If anyone finds any details of the proposed electoral system or the federal structure, please post a comment.
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Nepal’s interim government in crisis

The Nepali Maoists may bring a no-confidence motion against the country’s interim government, formed to prepare the country for post-war constituent assembly elections that were to have been held some months ago.

The news item in the Times of India notes that the Maoists have withdrawn from the government, primarily to try to force the issue of abolishing the country’s monarchy before the constituent assembly is elected. It also notes that a series of demands includes “holding the constituent assembly elections on the basis of proportional representation.” Previously, the electoral system had been tentatively agreed to be a mixed-member majoritarian system.

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Click the country name above, in the “planted in” line, for previous posts on the appointed interim parliament and the proposed electoral system.

A mixed-member system for Nepal

According to the Hindustan Times, the major Nepali political parties and the demobilizing Maoist rebels have agreed to some major structural changes to Nepal’s political system.

The electoral system, until now plurality in single-seat districts (SSD), will be changed to half SSDs and half proportional representation for the “over 400 seats” in the upcoming constituent assembly. No other details are given, except to note there will be changes to the process of constituency boundary delimitation, including “demarcating them on the basis of geography as well as population.” (This implies a tolerance for significant malapportionment, which might perhaps be a demand of the rural-based Maoists and various ethnic minorities. I would also guess that this means the system would be MMM/parallel, not MMP/compensatory.)

The article also notes that this decision comes after:

the Madhes Janadhikar Forum, a socio-political organisation comprising Madhesis, people of Indian origin living in the Terai plains, began a series of shutdowns and blockades in the south from this month.

The Madhes Forum is seeking proportional representation and regional autonomy, possibly including federalism.

Meanwhile, the King has little to do but to watch peacocks.

Previous posts on Nepal:

Big steps in Nepal

The “People’s Movement” of last April that forced King Gyanendra to back down from his claimed absolute powers and that led to a cease-fire in the long-running internal war bears significant institutional fruit this week.

The Nepalese House of Representatives is being formally dissolved as the Maoist rebels lay down their arms. An interim constitution will come into effect, and members will take their seats in a 330-member Interim House. The Interim House will consist of 83 delegates appointed by the rebels, 83 by the leftist party CPN-UML and 85 by the Nepali Congress Party. (I wonder how that balance of representation was determined; it also is not clear to me how the remaining 79 seats were distributed, but Nepal has quite a stew of political parties.)

Under the interim constitution, all powers formerly vested in the monarchy will be transferred to the post of Prime Minister.

Elections to a constituent assembly to draft a permanent constitution are scheduled for June.

The United Nations has played a key part in brokering the peace process, which includes the rebels’ locking up their weapons at designated camps, while the army locks up a similar quantity of its weapons. The rebels are to remain in the camps through the elections.

Update: See Jonathan Edelstein’s post of 23 January, in which he notes that the Maoists’ success in recruiting civil-society and Dalit representatives for some of their seats in parliament lends “support to the theory that their organization and discipline will allow them to continue to drive the political process. Given that the Maoists’ long-term democratic credentials are still in considerable doubt, this raises questions about exactly where the transition might lead.”

Nepal: Revolution or democracy?

This post steps outside the specialties of this blog a little bit. One of my academic sidelines is revolution, though I have not published in this area in a while. Recent events in Nepal have looked more like an incipient revolution* than party or electoral politics, with a king having assumed absolute rule a year ago (and having dissolved parliament in 2002) and a Maoist insurgency supposedly controlling much of the countryside.

Shortly before a big opposition demonstration was expected, the king announced he would reinstate parliament. At least for now, this has split the alliance between the parliamentary parties and the Maoists. Those who had been demonstrating are apparently hailing this decision as a victory, while the Maoists are (predictably) calling it a ploy. But I can’t help but feel that the Maoists’ position on this announcement by the king might be the one closer to reality. The parties that accepted a measure well short of what the alliance had been calling for–i.e. an end to the “autocratic monarchy” and elections for a constituent assembly to decide the role of the monarchy and how to deal with the Maoists–need to be careful here. If this is a first step to the constituent assembly, it could be a positive step. But I wonder if the assurances are really there, given this king’s track record.

Then there is the question of how representative these parties that just accepted this offer really are. One can see from a look at the results of the 1991, 1994, and 1999 elections that the party system is fragmented. Nepal uses FPTP, yet many small parties have one or a few seats each. In other words, many of these parties represent small regional constituencies. The largest party in 1999 was the Nepalese Congress Party. It won a manufactured majority of seats on only about 37% of the vote.

One can only infer so much from electoral statistics–though I have been known to infer a lot!–but this is not the look of a party system in which the parties are broadly representative. If all of them are on board with the king’s plan, then, more or less by definition, it implies broad acceptance by the people’s representatives. On the other hand, these party leaders have not been the people’s de-facto representatives for some time–parliament has been dissolved and in the meantime, its constitutional term would have expired–and they have not been tested in an election in an even longer time. In the mean time, “people power” has emerged. The parties have to tread carefully here, or they could find themselves losing ground to the Maoists if the latter’s assessment of the king’s offer as a ploy comes to be seen by masses of Nepalis as accurate.

* The link is to a post at The Head Heeb, in the comments to which, Jonathan and I have discussed the relevance of existing typologies of revolution to Nepal. Jonathan has posted an update.