After the last phase of elections to three levels of government under the new Constitution on Thursday, the question on most voters’ minds is not who will win. It is whether the new government structure can ensure political stability. The Election Commission hopes to wrap up vote counting in just over a week, and we will know whether the Left Block or Democratic Alliance has a higher combined score.
Whoever wins, the new government will be keenly watched to see if it behaves any differently from the political cartel of the past, whether Kathmandu will really devolve power, and if that sets Nepal on a path to development, job creation and prosperity.
A lot will depend on what kind of majority the winning alliance gets, whether it will bring the same old politicians into government, how intense the inter- and intra-party rivalry will be in the coming years, and of course how much geopolitics will play a part in making and breaking coalitions.
Nepal has ended an excruciatingly long constitutional transition to a federal, secular and democratic republic by voting for central, provincial and local governments. But that may not necessarily translate into political stability.
The Left Alliance of the UML and the Maoists has promised a stable government for at least five coming years if it wins. It certainly has an edge over the Democratic Alliance led by the NC, and is likely to get a majority.
According to the new Constitution, the opposition cannot bring down the government through a no-confidence vote for at least two years. And if that motion fails, another no-confidence proposal cannot be tabled for a year. This provision was inserted into the new Constitution to ensure political stability.
But Bipin Adhikari, an expert on constitutional law, says that useful as it may be, the rule may not guarantee stability: “It is just a constitutional experiment, and we are yet to see whether it works in our favour.”
Adhikari says the grounds on which ideologically opposed political parties have forged electoral alliances are very shaky, and these coalitions could collapse at any time. “Theoretically, we have found a remedy for our perennial political instability,” he explains, “but practically, it is still difficult.”
If a single party fails to win a majority, and forms the government with the backing of one or two other parties, governments will still be fragile. The Constitution restricts the opposition from registering a no-confidence vote for two years, but does not bar coalition partners from pulling out.
Nepal has been ruled by a triumvirate of three main parties and a plethora of fringe parties, and the possibility of a single party winning is slim. The UML and the Maoists have said they will unite after elections, but they may change their minds if they do not get the desired results jointly and separately.
Indu Shekhar Mishra, a professor of political science in Birganj, says: “If the Maoists could ditch the UML to lead the new government with the NC’s support in the past, they can do the same again. They may just be bargaining for a more lucrative deal.”
Mishra sees little chance of stability because the political leaders are the same greedy ones whose short-sightedness was the underlying cause of instability in the past.