The vote, at last

Seven years ago, Nepal's half-a-dozen "tall leaders" stood together on a public platform and promised, "We will never repeat the mistakes we committed in the past, and establish a democracy that will never be snatched away by anyone." They also promised to conduct a politics of consensus. They were responding to a moment of euphoria when the then king, Gyanendra Shah, had handed power back to political parties after 15 months of direct rule, under pressure from a mass movement backed by the international community, with India taking a lead role. The monarchy was abolished in May 2008, and the leaders promised to write a constitution through the Constituent Assembly (CA) just elected by the people.

Those promises went unfulfilled. The CA elected for a two-year term extended itself by two years but failed to hold even a single session of a full House to discuss reports that 11 committees had prepared on elements of the constitution. The politics of consensus collapsed. There were five prime ministers in as many years one from the Nepali Congress and two each from the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML). As the CA's term ended in failure in May 2012, mutual distrust among the parties peaked. They refused to accept any party or leader as head of the electoral government. Under the initiative of the UN, US and India, they agreed in March 2013 to the appointment of Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi as the executive head to replace Baburam Bhattarai, on the condition that he would conduct a free and fair election to the second CA. That election will finally be held today, after being postponed from November 22, 2012.

How will the second CA be different from the first? Will the leaders be more serious about constitution-making? The international community believes that electing another CA is the only way to consolidate democracy, shorten the already long transition and gain international legitimacy for the political process in this fragile nation. While the international community's capacity to dictate Nepal's political course has expanded, its ability to read the situation correctly and prescribe a workable formula has been questioned by the average Nepali citizen. The Supreme Court's impartiality and independence have been visibly compromised when it came to rescuing the CJ and his government. While elections promote democracy, an independent judiciary and adherence to the principle of separation of powers are also non-negotiable for its success.

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