- Created: Thursday, 14 May 2009 13:56
- Written by Andrew Alexander
‘This victory is a command by the Nepali people to establish lasting peace’ Prachanda, April 2008
On 10 April, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN(M)) won elections for a Constituent Assembly with 31% of the vote: they gained 120 of the 240 directly-elected seats and 100 of the seats allotted through proportional representation. The Maoists’ spectacular victory was a shock for the regional and global powers who presumed that the bourgeois Nepali Congress Party and its allies would form the government. The Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (UML) had 110 and 103 seats respectively. The US embassy in Kathmandu had scornfully predicted that the CPN(M) would garner a mere 10% of the vote.
The election of a Constituent Assembly, which will write a new constitution for Nepal, was the cornerstone of the 2006 peace deal struck with the Maoist rebels which ended the civil war in Nepal and forced the king, Gyanendra, to end direct rule and restore parliament. An estimated 60% of the 17.6 million electorate voted, lining up before dawn at the 20,000 polling stations, many voting for the first time in their lives. Many of the CPN(M)’s votes came from the dalit, or untouchable caste, who form 14% of the population. The CPN(M) has promised to end both caste and gender discrimination. It has 21 women in the new assembly, compared with the Nepal Congress Party’s one.
However, with 601 seats in total in the new Constituent Assembly, the CPM(N) lacks an overall majority, and will need to build alliances. CPN(M) leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known by his rebel name of Prachanda, ‘the fierce one’, said that all political parties should unite to push ahead the peace process and implement the republican agenda. The most pressing task will be to form a new government. When asked how the CPN(M) could form a government without the two-thirds majority required by the Interim Constitution, Prachanda was clear: ‘We are trying our best to build consensus and ultimately we will get consensus’.
The immediate aim is to replace the monarchy with an elected head of state. Prachanda has said that the king will be accorded every respect as a citizen of Nepal as long as he co-operates with the forthcoming abolition of the monarchy rather than having to be forced out. The CPN(M) is drafting a new constitution which provides for a prime minister and a president. Prachanda is likely to become Nepal’s first ‘executive president’, but he has indicated that in the meantime he would accept the post of prime minister with the responsibility of the head of state, like the present incumbent Prime Minister Girija Prasad, who has yet to resign – an indication of some of the challenges the new government will face. The ruling class will not easily give up its privileges nor its power.
While the Maoists have put down their arms, they have not disbanded. Access to the People’s Liberation Army’s weapons is still under the conditions of a complicated arrangement involving the UN. The PLA has stated that they will be used in defence against any attack by the army or an outside force. They may yet be needed. For though isolated and discredited by the mass of the people and abandoned by even bourgeois forces, King Gyanendra still enjoys support from the army generals. They may not readily accept their leadership being replaced by PLA chiefs. The imperialist powers are also biding their time, waiting to see how much of a threat the Maoist leadership poses to their interests should they pursue a more revolutionary agenda. Prachanda has stated that after the implementation of the republican agenda the country would tread the path of ‘economic revolution’.
The CPN(M) has been voted in because it has championed the cause of some of the poorest people in the world, promising to improve their conditions. How far it is now able to do so will depend on the Maoists’ political will and their ability to mobilise the masses. Any radical economic reform will be met with opposition by the other parties and strain whatever coalition is now formed. This will derail the ‘peaceful’ conditions under which the CPN(M) is seeking to develop the revolutionary process. However, the elections have shown that the CPN(M) has the mass of the people on its side and in those circumstances, real change is possible.
FRFI 203 June / July 2008