The legislative elections that were held in Nepal on November 26th and December 07th was a landslide victory for a far leftist alliance, under the new constitution. It has been 3 weeks since the UML (Unified Maoist-Leninist) and the Maoist Centre together, ensured a communist led government for 2018.
The more centrist and liberal Nepali Congress party, had dominated the political scene for over a quarter of a century,as the days of monarchy spiraled down. They had become over these years, the default party of the government. The startling elections results practically annihilated, these more traditional politicians.
The electoral victory was made inevitable, once the Maoists made the rather late political decision, to abandon their previous coalition partner, the Nepali Congress.
It was the first parliamentary elections in Nepal since 1999, and the first time voters were to choose representatives to 7 provincial assemblies, following the abolishing of the monarchy in 2008. The latter had ruled Nepal for near two and a half centuries.
Parliamentary democracy had already been introduced in 1951, but it was twice suspended by Nepalese monarchs in both 1960 and 2005. The ending of the Nepalese Civil War, resulted in a proclamation of a republic, and the end of the last Hindu monarchy.
The Nepalese Civil War began in 1996, when the Communist Party of Nepal started a violent campaign to replace the royal parliamentary system, with a people’s republic. More than 12,000 people would be killed, during the next decade of fighting.
The communist electoral win, is largely seen in Nepal as a result of the anger felt by voters, due to the five month long economic blockade imposed by India, in 2015 and 2016.
Given the geography of this mountainous landlocked country, and the fact that India borders the former kingdom on three sides, the 6 month blockade brought the economy, practically to a standstill.
Another reason for the success of the communists in the polls, was the electorate has grown tired of the ruling elite and their failed policies. The poverty rate even by the low standards of living in Nepal, is near 25%.
The communists are promising greater economic development, beginning with a number of new infrastructure projects.
In addition,the communists were better organized this go around.
As neighboring India’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) grows at 6.7% and China to the north, grows at a rate of 6.8%, Nepal continues to expand at a far slower pace. For 2017, growth is estimated to be an acceptable 4.1%, but this follows the dismal 0.6% level in 2016.
An emerging market economy like Nepal, should be growing at a much faster pace, given its present state of development.
The hastily drafted constitution passed in 2015, which was created by a consensus among the top leadership of the major political parties, is not clear on the formation of a new legislature. There is also ambiguity, concerning the functioning of a new central government and in the seven provinces, as well.
The 15.4 million eligible voters in this nation of 29 million, were asked to vote in two phases for a mixed system of government. The lower house of parliament with 275 members, was elected through a first past the post system (FPTP) and through a proportional representation system.
This was to be done at a 60% and 40% level respectively.
The upper house with 59 members, was to have the majority of the body a total of 56 members, elected by an electoral college and 3 to be appointed by the president.
The two parts of the legislature are supposed to have equal powers, under the new constitution.
The new constitution in Nepal, was intended to decentralize power from the central government in Kathmandu, to the newly created seven provinces and local government units.
The communists were able to capture some 70% of the 165 seats allocated for the FPTP. The ruling Nepali Congress party, only came in with just 14% of the vote.
The election results will bring a foreign policy re-balancing, somewhat away from India and more towards China.
The likely new Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli is already moving towards, even better ties with China. When he was in power the last time in 2015, he signed both trade and transit agreements with the Chinese. This was the result of the Indian blockade.
During the recent election campaign, Oli pledged to once again stand up to overbearing India.
However,the rhetoric can only go so far. The open border between India and Nepal have greatly helped trade between the two nations. It has also allowed millions of Nepalese to find work in India and elsewhere.
Remittances from Nepalese living abroad, are equivalent to near 30% of the GDP of their home country.
One of the advantages in fostering an even closer relationship with China, is that the Chinese are far more able to provide extensive foreign aid and investment, than the Indian government is.
Despite, the canceling of the huge Chinese backed hydroelectric project,by the outgoing government, there will be a substantial push to have China fund new undertakings. These will include a number of new airports, highways and dams.
The Chinese themselves, are pushing for a railway that will terminate at Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha.
The most important scheme may well be a high altitude road, that will connect the capital of Nepal to the Chinese controlled territory of Tibet.
The hope of the new government is that the new passageway, will make the country less dependent on India. It will at least, give Nepal a better hand in bargaining, with their giant neighbor to the south.
There are of course, dissident voices, that fear greater Chinese influence in Nepal. The concern is along with the infusion of fresh investment, there will be new political interference.
Some opposing leaders claim the new Nepalese government will soon attempt, to use some of the same aggressive Chinese tactics in dealing with dissent.
The incoming government, will need to strike a balance between both China and India. It will not be to the benefit of Nepal, if a political tilt goes too far one way,thus alienating and antagonizing their other neighbor.