23 November, 2013

WHY THE MAOISTS LOST AT THE POLLS, BUT STILL HAVEN’T LOST THE WAR




SUSHMA JOSHI
A young woman from Nuwakot from where the Nepali Congress just won the elections tells me this. First, that theirs was a Maoist area, where the Maoist won with an overwhelming margin in the last elections. This time too, they should have won—and there were strong Maoist candidates there, particularly those associated with the Vaidya faction, who would have won again, had they run. But this time, the Maoists lost.

 First, she said, the Vaidya faction, while ruled this area, called for people to vote for parties other than the Maoists.  There were community meetings, she said, and people decided to vote for Prakash Chandra Lohani, an old term politician from the same area, and his plough sign instead.  Then the second reason was the confusion created by the bifurcation of the Maoists, and the way they weren’t able to create a strong institution that could withstand the split. And third, people were upset about the whole issue of ethnic federalism, and they wanted to show their disagreement. 

When I am puzzled at why the Madeshi parties have such a poor showing at the polls as well, she says that the splitting of parties in the Madesh probably caused the splitting of votes as well. 

It appears to me people in Nepal don’t vote as individuals-they vote as communities, with the decision made consensually and driven in through community pressure. A young woman returning from Kathmandu for a day is getting phone calls from many different relatives, all of whom have agreed to support one candidate. This probably causes the sort of “block voting” phenomena associated with the big wins of one party or another. 

Prakash Chandra Lohani, of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (Suryabahadur faction) is an astonishing switch for an area that had, and still has, overwhelming Maoist support. And yet, due to the split of the party and the confusion created by Vaidya, the Maoists lost to the Nepali Congress even in this stronghold. (Apparently Prakash Chandra Lohani  has launched an inquiry about why he lost in this area.)

Will the Constitution get written with only two parties winning with the overwhelming majority? The Nepali Congress and UMl may have ousted all other parties out of the political arena with their spectacular wins, but whether this makes for an inclusive Constitution making atmosphere remains to be seen. Clearly the need for a new Constitution came into being precisely because the constituency of the Maoists felt excluded from the polity. So to have these two big parties dominating brings the political field back to a moment—say, pre-1996, when in fact the same faces dominated the political scene.

In Nepal, we call this sort of situation: Back to mangalman. For those of you who’ve played Snakes and Ladders, this is when the player slithers back to the starting square. 

The winning parties are ecstatic--as they should be, in light of their poor showing at the last elections. But whether this ecstasy is good for the future of the nation remains to be seen. The issue still remains—in a poor country where many joined a People’s War because they felt excluded from a political system dominated by a few select players, an elections that gives two parties the overwhelming majority still doesn’t resolve the Constitutional crisis. In fact, it may precipitate it further--unless all  players, including the smaller ones, are given a place at the table.   

No comments: