Maoist error raises hung house spectre in Nepal

April 24th, 2008 - 12:33 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 24 (IANS) The spectre of a hung parliament hangs over Nepal. While the former ruling parties misread the electorate and paid for the costly error, the Maoists too miscalculated by rooting for a proportional representational (PR) system and lost their chance to obtain a simple majority. Although the Maoists, who fought their first election after 17 years, have emerged as the largest party and announced their intention to lead the next government, they have to woo other parties to form a ruling coalition.

While the former rebels came up with stunning results in the first phase of the April 10 constituent assembly election, their performance in the second phase dipped during the last few days, with the rise of ethnic parties in the southern plains halting the Maoist poll juggernaut.

The Election Commission is expected to announce the final tally Thursday.

The once banned Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) won 120 of the 240 directly contested seats as the desire for change and anger against the ruling Nepali Congress party swept the nation.

However, in the race for the next 335 seats, which are to be decided on the basis of proportional representation, the parties that fared badly in the straight fights have surged back, including royalists.

Under the proportional representation system, the Maoists have obtained a little over 29 percent of the votes, which would mean about 100 seats more, taking their total strength in the 601-member constituent assembly to around 220.

Although their nearest rival, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress, obtained 37 votes in the direct contests, coming a poor second, the proportional representation system has boosted it with over 21 percent votes, indicating about 73 seats more.

The proportional representation system also improved the performance of the third largest party, the Communist Part4y of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML).

While the UML could garner only 33 seats in the first phase, the proportional representation system saw it bounce back with nearly 20 percent vote, or about 70 seats more.

The Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, headed by King Gyanendra’s home minister Kamal Thapa, had entered the straight fights supporting monarchy and was annihilated.

Thapa himself lost his deposit and the party was unable to win a single seat.

However, the proportional representation system has resurrected the party, giving it about five seats in the new assembly.

Two more parties, regarded close to the Maoists, have also bounced back, thanks to the proportional representation system.

The Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Rastriya Janashakti Party failed to obtain any seat in the direct fights but will now be able to send eight and five representatives respectively.

Ironically, the Maoists themselves had been rooting for the proportional representation system.

Last year, the government called for election to a 497-member assembly, in which 240 seats were to have been filled on the basis of straight contests, an equal number under the proportional representation system and the remaining 17 members were to have been nominated.

However, the Maoists feared a public backlash against their leaders due to their decade-old “People’s War” that had killed over 13,000 people.

So they forced the prime minister to postpone the election and amend the poll system.

Initially, the hawks in the Maoist party were rooting for a fully proportional representation system. After prolonged negotiations, it was agreed to increase the number of seats with the larger bloc to be decided under the new system.

If the former guerrillas had stuck to the old understanding, they could have been celebrating a simple majority victory now. Now, thanks to the costly miscalculation, they have to woo other parties.

On Thursday, the Nepali Congress leadership began consultations to decide if they would join a Maoist-led government.

While Koirala favours remaining in the ruling coalition, his trade union associate and youth wing are urging him to stay aloof. Later this week, the UML leadership will also start similar consultations.

For now, the Maoists will have to wait for the decisions.

The roles have been reversed now and despite the victory, the Maoists are in Koirala’s shoes, facing the tough task of reconciling disparate elements and cobbling an alliance at any cost.

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