NEW DELHI — Nepalis have spoken with their ballots; voters have responded to years of political turmoil by casting out former Maoist rebels who swept into power five years ago when the Himalayan nation abolished its monarchy and became a democratic republic.
Voters had plenty of reasons to be disenchanted by the political process in a country that has undergone tremendous change in less than a decade. Nepal has seen six different governments since 2008, none of which was able to deliver a constitution.
Still, Nepalis defied skeptics; voter turnout reached at least 70-percent for the November 19 vote to elect the 601-member Constituent Assembly. The parliamentary body was dissolved last year and an interim government installed after political parties missed yet another deadline to draft a constitution and debated whether to divide Nepal into federal states along ethnic lines or geographic ones.
This gridlock was not what people in Nepal expected when they voted the former Maoist rebels into power in 2008. The former insurgents had agreed to lay down their arms, end a 10-year civil war and join the government as part of a peace process forged just two years earlier.
However, in a sign of voters' dissatisfaction with the Maoists, the Unified Communist Party (Maoists) of Nepal that won the most seats in the Constituent Assembly in 2008 came in third place, winning just 26 of 240 directly elected seats. Nepal’s oldest political party, Nepali Congress, won 105 seats, and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) came in second with 91.
Kathmandu Post Editor-in-Chief Akhilesh Upadhyay said voters sent a strong message at the polls.
“The backlash against the Maoists was very strong on the ground for not having been able to deliver the most important aspect of the peace process: the constitution. And as the largest party that was not in existence after the 2008 elections, the voters seemed to have particularly vented ire on their failure,” said Upadhyay.
The Maoists, led by former Prime Minister Prachanda, who goes by one name, have reacted by alleging fraud and other irregularities during the election process. However, local and international observers say the vote was conducted fairly.
Upadhyay thinks it is now time for Nepal to get past a “difficult period in its history.” He notes that while the former Himalayan kingdom has languished during its political transition, other South Asian nations, including neighbors India and China, are economically thriving.
“We have to absolutely move on, get on with our constitution-making, make peace between parties. People are just tired of all these things that have dragged on for years. It continues to hit their daily lives. Businesses have suffered. We have had a lot of closures, political shutdowns. We could do away with all of this,” said Upadhyay.
Saroj G.C., a 28-year old Nepali teacher, said that he and other voters have given lawmakers another chance at establishing stability in this new democratic republic.
“We haven’t grown up in terms of [establishing an] economic foundation, so my message to political leaders, bring sizable development that can sustain the political change,” said Saroj.
For now, Nepalis are awaiting the final make-up of the Constituent Assembly to determine who will lead the nation of 27 million people. Aside from the 240 directly elected members, 335 seats will be allotted based on the number of votes each political party gets while the cabinet nominates the remaining 26 members.