Results of the much-awaited provincial and federal elections have now been finalized. There is a constitutional provision to elect 60 per cent of the representatives through the first-past-the-post system whilst 40 per cent on the basis of the proportional representation mode.
The elections have represented a paradigm shift in the nation’s politics as new parties and independent candidates have gained prominence. The major parties-- Nepali Congress and CPN-UML-- were not able to achieve a majority. As no single political party has achieved majority in federal as well as provincial legislatures, it is necessary for the parties to forge new alliances or give continuity to the existing ones in order to form a government.
The manifestoes of the coalition partners are contradictory and represent ideological differences that are difficult to reconcile. The CPN-Maoist Centre is in favour of adopting a directly elected presidential system with a parliament fully elected by a proportional system. However, its coalition partners, including the Nepali Congress, disagree on this agenda. Similarly, the vision of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party’s (RPP) is that it wants the restoration of the monarchy while its ally CPN-UML sticks to the idea of republican state.
The elections also saw the rise of new political actors and the fall of a few established figures. Parties and individuals who ran on an anti-establishment agenda achieved a major success especially the newly formed Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP). Its success can be credited to the dissatisfaction of the electorate towards the mainstream political parties who have been accused of failing to deliver on their promises and control corruption. The ‘No, Not Again’ campaign was a prime indicator of this attitude. However, majority of the mainstream politicians were once again reelected. This is interesting as it raises the question of how these anti-establishment parties will interact with the political figures they opposed in their election campaigns.
Parties will not strategically pursue coalition partners in order to form the next government. Parties will go against their own political ideologies and past differences in order to get a seat in government. In 2017, Nepal witnessed a communist coalition between UML and the Maoist Centre which eventually split. The Maoist Centre then formed a coalition government with Nepali Congress. During the decade-long civil war, the Maoists and NC did not have good relations. Such is the perversion of democratic norms in Nepal where ideology takes a back seat to the avarice nature of predatory politicians.
With an absence of a majority government, Nepal is likely to witness the same political instability it had in previous years which might further derail the development of the country. Coalition partners are likely to split if one of the parties becomes frustrated with a lack of political power. Federal and provincial governments can change quickly when new coalitions form. However, the mainstream political parties now face slightly more pressure due to the popularity of parties such as the RSP, RPP, Nagarik Unmukti Party and Janamat Party. These groups are also likely to be included in coalitions and they have the potential to hold the mainstream parties accountable and promote good governance. However, they can easily participate in the same corrupt practices when they become part of a government. It is pertinent to remember that the NC and the communists were anti-establishment parties at one point whether they were against the Rana autocracy and the Shah dynasty. But they tainted their reputation and political ideologies once they were voted to power.
The results of the elections demand coalitions and mainstream parties to support fringe parties and independent parliamentarians. There is a possibility in Nepal that an individual with less than 10 per cent of votes can be elected. There needs to be a clause that must state that a candidate has to have at least 50 per cent of the votes in order to be elected. When this does not occur, there has to be a reelection between the top two candidates.
Now the country has a hung parliament, which is fragile, and instable. However, this is not catastrophic. There is a potential for parties to look above partisan and individual interests and work in the interest of the nation. The influx of new and young parliamentarians may lead to novel ideas and perspectives to parliament which is a healthy feature of democracy. Nevertheless, there is still more work to do in order to promote more inclusive democratic society. Firstly, not all Nepali citizens can practice their right to vote.
Despite the Supreme Court’s verdict, there is still not a mechanism in place for migrant workers and other citizens living abroad to vote. These workers are vital for our national economy as they send remittance to the nation. Secondly, in order to avoid political instability, a consensus needs to be forged in order for parties to work towards the national interest. The presence of a new wave of parliamentarians can ensure this by piling pressures on the mainstream parties, making them work as per the democratic norms. After all, this was a rallying cry during their electoral campaigns, and they need to deliver this to their constituents.
(Mainali is former secretary of the government.)