Defeated, not subdued

Despite electoral rout, Maoists are trying to wrest control of governance.

It is too early to predict if the election to the Constituent Assembly (CA) will offer a solution to Nepal's political mess. But the early symptoms are alarming. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), relegated to a distant third, appears confused and divided over whether to participate in the new House. It's now poised to lead an alliance of losers on the common plea that the "elections were thoroughly rigged, and are therefore unacceptable". The UCPN-M is also initiating a move to amend the interim constitution, so that the new prime minister is "chosen" on the basis of consensus, not majority. If that happens, the Maoists and their chief Prachanda may still strike a deal with others that, with Nepali Congress leader G.P. Koirala deceased, he is the only surviving signatory to the historic peace accord seven years ago.

While the Maoists' role and participation will be crucial for concluding the peace process and writing the new constitution, their appropriation of governance after their crushing defeat will be a clear subversion of the mandate by which the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) have emerged as the two largest parties. In fact, the hung House will be a badly fragmented one, with intra-party divisions in key parties likely to further trigger political instability. If Prachanda is able to overrule two senior leaders ó Baburam Bhattarai and Narayan Kaji Shrestha ó within his party, he will force a major constitutional crisis by delaying the nomination of legislators under the proportional representation system and by not letting those elected under the first past the post system take oath within the stipulated timeframe.

The UCPN-M, as a face-saver, has formed an internal committee to collect evidence of "rigging and manipulation". Both the international community and the winning parties know Maoists need to be persuaded to accept their defeat with or without grace. "We are not going to move out of the peace process and the mandate," Bhattarai assured US Ambassador Peter W. Bodde. But Maoist rhetoric and practice have often gone against each other. How will the Nepali Congress and UML lead the peace and constitution-making process this time round?

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