On 19 November Nepal held elections for a Constituent Assembly. The Assembly is tasked with drawing up a new Constitution, but will also act as the legislature during the constituent period.
This is Nepal’s second Constituent Assembly. The first was elected in 2008. However, this assembly failed to agree a constitution by the time it was dissolved in May 2012. In the first Assembly the largest party was Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). There were two other main groups, the centre-right Nepal Congress party and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist−Leninist). These two parties combined had around the same level of support as the Maoists and, together, the three parties held about two-thirds of the seats in the Assembly, the rest being split among a large number of smaller groups. There were deep divisions between the three main parties. These divisions and the fragmentation of the legislature generally meant that a new Constitution proved impossible to agree. One of the main points of contention was whether there should be a presidential, semi-presidential or parliamentary constitution. The parties seemed to have agreed on semi-presidentialism, but there was still an unresolved debate about the powers of the president, the PM and the legislature.
The results of the new Constituent Assembly have not been finalised. However, the preliminary results show a major shift of power. The Maoists have done very badly, winning only 26 of the 240 first-past-the-post constituency seats. In 2008, they won 120 of these seats. Instead, the Nepal Congress party has emerged as the largest party, winning 105 seats, while the Marxist−Leninists have won 91 seats. According to the Himalayan Times, the Congress party is leading in the PR vote too with 1,835,048 votes so far, followed by the Marxist−Leninists with 1,724,931 votes, and the Maoists with 1,072,486 votes. The relative strengths of the parties are unlikely to vary, giving Congress and the Marxist−Leninists about 400 of the 600 seats in the new Assembly with fewer than 100 for the Maoists compared with 229 in the last Assembly.
The Maoists have cried foul with claims of irregularities and vote-rigging. Their leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) had indicated that they would boycott the Assembly. However, there are some signs that they might have shifted their position.
Generally, the constitution-making process should be easier this time. Last time, the main sticking point was the issue of federalism, which was one of the Maoists main demands. However, for all parties the devil was in the detail and this is unlikely to change. So, we should not expect a final constitution for a few years yet.