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Constituent Assembly Election II in Nepal: Will it end the prolonged political transition? December 16, 2013

Posted by aungsi in : Guest authors, Nepal , trackback

After 10 years of Maoist insurgency, Nepal faced two elections for the Constituent Assembly (CA) – one in 2008 (CA I) and the other in 2013 (CA II) to craft a new constitution by peoples’ representatives. Since the CA I was dissolved in 2012 for failing to deliver a new constitution, a CA II election was conducted to get the fresh mandate of the people on 19 November 2013. However, the recent election has produced landslide gains for some political parties and massive setbacks for some other parties, leading to a dramatic change in key players in national politics.  In particular, the Communist Party (Maoist), which had become the largest party in CA I, along with other Madhesi regional parties, has suffered a great loss in the recent election. The party has been advocating for a transformative agenda for Nepalese polity and society. Now, a critical question arises: have the people rejected the agenda for change? In this paper, we look at reasons behind the rise and fall of political parties in the contexts of CA I and CA II, and examine the implications for the political future of the country.

The reasons behind the dissolution of CA I could be said to be a stagnation of political processes on some fundamental issues in the constitution drafting process. Defining basic criteria for setting up new federal states, ensuring inclusion of various marginalised groups of people in the new political processes, restructuring the governance of the unitary state, and shaping a new model of governance structure were some key unresolved and contested issues. These issues were pertinent because Nepal has been blessed with 125 different ethnic groups, and the majority of them have been traditionally excluded from the mainstream political processes. More importantly, women have always had subordinate positions to men in policy spaces. Therefore, the new constitution was expected to address these important issues, democratically.

Despite these challenges, CA I has set some historical milestones. Among them, the abolition of 240 years of monarchy and the declaration of the country as republic, and the announcement of the country as a ‘secular state’ instead of a ‘Hindu Kingdom’ are fundamental ones. Furthermore, they have made mandatory provisions of 33% representation of women in different spheres of public life. Nonetheless, the political processes in Nepal are still volatile, and there are many challenges on the path to institutionalise the new secular, federal, and republic democracy so that every citizen can realise these outcomes in their everyday lives. Here, the question arises – would CA II be able to craft a new constitution building on the successes of CA I?

The CA II election results suggest some key swings of the people’s mandate, with changes in the representation of different political parties in the new CA.  Figure 1 and Figure 2 present a comparative picture of the representation of different political parties in CA I and II, based on the number of representatives in the Assembly.

Figure 1: Election Result 2008 (number of reps.)


Figure 2: Election Result 2013 (number of reps.)


As shown in figure 1, the Communist Party of Nepal (‘CPN-Maoist’ hereafter) was elected as the major player in CA I and the Nepali Congress (‘Congress’ hereafter), the Community Party of Nepal (United Marxist and Leninist ‘CPN-UML’ hereafter) and Madhesi Parties were in second, third and fourth position, respectively. CPN-Maoist won 220 (37%) of 601 seats of the constituent assembly, and was the largest party. Congress gained 18%, CPN-UML 17%, Madhesi 13% and various others controlled 11% of the assembly in 2008.

With the 2013 election (CA II), the representation of different parties in the assembly has changed. As shown in the figure 2, the size of Maoist party has decreased from 37% to 13%, that is, 220 members to 80 members in the assembly (from first position to third). However, Congress, which is regarded as a liberal party, has increased its share significantly, becoming the largest party. The party saw an increase in the number of members from 110 (18%) to 196 (33%). Similarly, the CPN-UML, the party which is believed to be close to the Congress in many political agendas, has been elected as another key player in CA II. The CPN-UML has increased its share from 103 members to 175 (from 17% to 29%), becoming the second largest party. The size of regional parties (particularly Madhesi) has decreased significantly and their representation has gone down from 83 in 2008 to 60 in 2013.

The 2013 election result indicates that the Maoist party and the Madhesi regional parties which have been carrying out their agenda of political transformation, have lost popularity for their radical views, while the liberal parties have increased their support base. More importantly, the party believed to be royalist, supporting the pro-Hindu monarchy, has increased its representation from 4 in 2008 to 24 members in 2013.

‘What caused all these changes?’ is a million dollar question which might spark debate and discussion for the next few years in Nepalese politics. Nevertheless, the following points can be inferred in the changed political landscape of the country:

– Nepali People have had high expectations from the political parties (particularly, from CPN-Maoist and some regional parties) which were regarded as revolutionary. Therefore, those parties won much support, and were favoured in CA I. However, they failed to deliver their promises to the people, and thus voters might not have seen a difference between them and the liberal parties – not in principle but in practice.

– Second, these parties were expected to work together in CA I. Nevertheless, rather than working together, the CPN-Maoist party experienced a split, and the Madhesi parties were also divided into several groups. The split of parties was one of the major setbacks to these parties in the 2013 election.

– Third, the governance of political parties and the alleged involvement of leaders in corruption could be considered as another reason. The revolutionary parties could not demonstrate that they were different from the others in terms of transparency and accountability. CPN-Maoist formed a committee to investigate alleged cases of corruption but any resulting reports have never been released. On contrary, they appointed some new people, who were facing allegations of corruption, to key positions in the party. The Madhesi parties ignored the accusations and did not dare to investigate either intra-party corruption, of the involvement of party leaders in other forms of corruption.

– Fourth, there has been confusion during the election process on the matter of whether the election was for the parliament or for the drafting of the constitution. There was much forming and reforming government during CA I, with four governments changing during this time. Therefore, the election process has been more individualistic, with a focus on new and/or popular faces rather than on the agenda of the party.

– Finally, the parties, particularly CPN-Maoist, which had been advocating for a transformation has not given clear direction on whether they would fight against class- or caste-based injustice. This confusion has contributed to so-called ‘higher caste’ people moving to liberal camps, which appear to be silent on caste issues.

At this point, it may be unfair to conclude that people have rejected the agenda for change. At the very least, they may have warned political parties to offer a clear vision, to change and improve their governance, and reduce preaching and practising differences. None of the parties is in a majority in CA II, and the message is very clear to all parties: that they should work together to shape the future of the country.

CA II is much more likely to produce a new constitution given that two parties – the Congress and UML – together constitute a two-third majority. However, the constitution-making process needs to ensure that key political forces, namely Maoist and regional Madhesi parties have their say. Overlooking the agenda put forward by these political forces, the country might have a new constitution but would again head towards further conflict and political instability. It is high time to address the concerns raised by the split faction of Maoist party, CPN-Maoist, which has been telling other political parties not to proceed with the constitution making process through the constituent assembly. Therefore, forging consensus among key political forces will be critical to institutionalising the agenda of inclusion, federalism, and democracy in Nepal.

Binod Chapagain is a PhD candidate at School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University. Ramesh Sunam is a PhD candidate at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University.


1. Babu - December 17, 2013

Clear and factual… Thank guys for sharing. Just to add one more point from my side (out of your social and political framework, but may be humanistic) for the cause of decline of vote for maoist is hypocrisy while people are not always as dumb and coward as they think

2. Babu - December 17, 2013

Moreover, I am quite hopeful to get the constitution get drafted and approved.

3. Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt - December 17, 2013

The note is useful and timely, so thank you Binod & Ramesh for posting it on SAM. This result was unexpected, but it might be in the longer term helpful for the country because the verdict kind of underlines ordinary people’s power as expressed in the ballot box. This power is something to note in Nepalese society and polity that is ridden with casteism and excessive power inequities. To byestanders like me, it looks as though Nepal’s journey into democracy has just begun.

4. Mohanraj Adhikari - December 17, 2013

The expectations of the people during election campaign household visits by different leaders showed that most people asked for schools, drinking water, roads, bridges, better housing, employment etc etc rather than a new piece of constitution !!!

Thus, the expectations from nepali citizens are clear from the pre and post election scenario in Nepal which could be summarized as social and economic equity in the following four domains.

1. Justice (not based on any religion or tradition but rationale)
2. Infrastructure development (both in rural as well as urban areas) to live a modern life. Expectations of which are raised due to globalization.
3. Access to services and resources (both government as well as private)
4. Employment/enterprise opportunity both within and outside the country.

Politicians in Nepal have been promising these things through different political settings after Rana oligarchy ended.
1. Multiparty democracy (after rana regime in 2007 BS)
2. Panchayat system (after king took over in 2017 BS)
3. Multiparty democracy, constitution monarchy (after first janaandolaan, 2046 BS)
4. Armed revolutions (Maoists 10 years revolution)
5. Federal republic (few parties leaders, namely 4-7 parties, oligarchy after first CA election)
6. Current scenario (concurrent scenario after second CA election)

In CA II elections, sovereign people of Nepal have clearly indicated that they don’t accept any political system/agenda whatever it is called as “revolutionary”, “regressive” or “stagnant” if it doesn’t fare them well on the four domains mentioned above. The elections results, which this article talks much about, should also be looked upon in this context. Maoists were against independent judiciary, had no clue how caste/ethnicity based federalism ensured the people’s expectation on the rest three domains mentioned above. Madhesi parties were towards one madhesh one state, but madhesi people were not convinced (as the election results showed) on how one madhesh one pradesh is going to change their socio economic situation. The other parties, called “liberal” in the article were more against caste/ethnicity ONLY based federal states. They proposed federal states based on geography, capacity together with identity, which people were convinced to have an ability to deliver their expectations.

When we talk about political transition in Nepal, my personal view is that it will not end until people’s expectations on the four domains mentioned above are fulfilled, or at least they are convinced that politics is in a right direction to fulfill those expectations. It is a gradual process and will take time. Having said that, a piece of constitution that can address the four aspirations of the people will of course be a milestone in the Nepalese people’s journey towards more stable political system. Having a two third majority to “liberal” parties will of course help towards preparing the new constitution more efficiently. Most important aspect is the speed with which these expectations are met after the new constitution is promulgated. If people feel that the things are not visibly changing rapid enough, political transition will be further extended because, political parties will again come up with new jargon (as CPN-maoists is doing now) with their own political agendas.

5. RP Sharma - December 17, 2013

The authors deserve special thanks for initiating academic debates on such a topical issue putting forward a largely fair analysis of the outcome of recent election for Constituent Assembly.
I begin with the last part of their article by appreciating their genuine concern: “Therefore, forging consensus among key political forces will be critical to institutionalizing the agenda of inclusion, federalism, and democracy in Nepal.” Of course, it is not an easy task given the political culture, leadership quality and excessive influence of external forces on politics for some non-political reasons but without it, there is no way out for sustainable outcomes. The authors have very positive interpretation and a high degree of realism on the election outcome when they say that: “… they should work together to shape the future of the country”.
As a student of politics and governance, I agree that the issue of designing federal structure along with the questions of naming and giving privileged preferences to certain castes or group of people in such structure was a critical factor for the deadlock of the first Constituent Assembly, for not being to come up with a new constitution even in four years’ time. However, going through the proceedings of the first Constituent Assembly and reflecting on the political dialogues of that time I don’t think that issues relating to inclusion and governance were that significant for the political stalemate. Of course, they were contested but I believe, were not that critical to disrupt the political process.
The authors are right when recognize diversity as blessings. Indeed, diversity being the defining characteristics of Nepali society is a great blessing to us. The problem is that we proceeded through the endless path of differences rather than embracing the blessings of diversity. Some of the influential opinion makers used ‘diversity’ as an ammunition to disrupt and dismantle our age-old social harmony and cohesion for some non-political reasons. They used diversity to create a huge rift among the Nepali fraternities by misusing it just to vomit venom against the people from certain backgrounds. We were engaged in preaching extreme negativism rather than building on positive assets that we had as if we didn’t had any.
I think when we analyse people’s verdict we also need to consider the context as well. In the first CA election, I believe, people had a great desire of peace more than anything else. Similarly, they were also tired of the dirty politics of the so called ‘historical’ and large political parties. Nepali Congress which embraced ‘winner takes all’, and “Grab as much as you can, when you have opportunity” without recognizing genuine concerns of parties in opposition, failed to contribute for the development of positive political culture in the country whereas the Communist Party of Nepal was engaged all the time in opposing the government becoming impatient and restless to grab the power. People were not happy with both the parties and they wanted them to get the lession through the first CA election.
The strategies and tactics which Maoists used to swell their size during the armed conflict ceased to have effect after the post conflict period. In fact they were guided by the principle of using anything, moral or immoral, political or non-political whatever else for the immediate benefits rather than guiding themselves by long term vision, policy or polity. They used mostly the sugar –coated words watching the weather to justify their misdeeds. That is one of the significant reasons of decreasing their popularity. Similarly, the atrocities and brutal killings of people mostly the rural poor and the people from the lower middle class in the name of some utopian terms and the misdeeds that they committed while they were in coalition government with the Madhes-based parties, the without any positive culture whose main motto was perceived to be just ‘chasing the people from hill origin’. It is believed that there was unprecedented corruption with the new lexicons like ‘pre-paid’ or ‘post-paid’ corruption. However, we should not conclude that Nepali Congress and CPN UML regained their popularity viewing the votes they gained. I think they were benefited with the popularity of ‘compulsion’ in the absence of better alternatives.
The authors are right when they tell that the parties who talked a lot about change and transformation but could not clearly establish what the change look like. They competed with each other to have patent rights of ‘change’ without having clear picture of what it is, nor they could firmly stand in their position. People couldn’t understand, whether change is just for the sake of change, just a strategy to grab power or it has some substance too.
I finish my comments again with the authors’ concluding remarks “Therefore, forging consensus among the key political forces will be critical to institutionalizing the agenda of inclusion, federalism, and democracy in Nepal”. For all this, the two large parties should rise substantially above the ‘status quo’ position; the so called change agents should be guided by rationality and wisdom rather than by temporal emotions and all the well-wishers including the development partners should be away from the fusion of ‘religious communism’ which is more dangerous and contagious disease than anything else. Moreover, swing in popular vote should be taken as normal though sometimes there may be ‘band-wagoning effect’ or ‘voter’s paradox’ etc. Taking it as abnormal or hyping it too much as more than normal thing creates agony even in accepting the election outcome.

6. Hemant Ojha - December 17, 2013

Thanks Binod and Ramesh for a good commentary on the outcome of recent CA election in Nepal. Yes people have warned parties not rejected the change agenda. The problem is with the political parties – NC, UML, Maoists and others. They have failed to run the parties in an accountable and responsive way. I recently wrote in a Kathmandu Post OPED that Nepalese politics is dominated by ‘politics of position’ and ‘politics of power’ rather than politics of substance and the issues that affect people. It is important that Kathmandu leaders grant power to local people through holding local elections by ending so called transition as soon as possible.

7. Shyam - December 17, 2013

Thanks Binod and Ramesh for bringing this useful topic on SAM. I agree with you that the issues of identity has not been rejected by people. The share of votes for identity group (Madhesi, Janajati and Dalits) has increased from 13.93 per cent in 2008 to 16.07 per cent in 2013 (see Lawoti, 2013, Dec 13, Kantipur). However, they have been divided to different groups and the representation in parliament is slim. Nonetheless, the message is clear that one cannot undermine the need of inclusive constitution to address the issue of structural exclusion in Nepal. The four points that Mohan has raised can only be addressed if there are inclusive constitution and policies in place.

8. Keshab Goutam - December 18, 2013

Thanks to Binod and Ramesh ! The piece is much relevant and interesting. I mostly agree with your realistic analysis, just wanted to put few concerns and views.
First, it could be further informative if you had discussed on the alleged ‘institutional conspiracy’ over the result of CA II (raised not only by some defeated parties including UCPN-Maoist but also by some top leaders of winning ‘liberal’ parties such as PC Lohani of RPP and RB Mahaseth of CPN-UML), which has been the centre of debate in the post-CA II political scenario in Nepal.
Second, I couldn’t see the word ‘identity’ throughout the article. I assume that the key contested issue that might have affected the poll results in the CA II was ‘identity’ in relation to federal structure. ‘Identity’ does not and should not refer to any caste, for example, the suppressed castes (eg. Dalits) are fighting for ‘demolishing’ their identity whereas some suppressed communities/ethnicities (eg. Madhesi, Tharu) are fighting for ‘establishing’ it. But yes, it was widely perceived as so not only because of the ‘caste’ propaganda made by those who were against identity based federalism but also because of the ambiguities in the parties putting forward it, and the statements and activities of the extreme ‘identity-ism’ activists themselves.
You have mentioned “… whether they would fight against class- or caste-based injustice. This confusion …”, I don’t think ‘fighting with class-based injustice’ and ‘fighting with caste-based injustice’ are the competing frameworks particularly in the context of Nepalese society. Instead, they would contribute to each other.
I am optimistic about the product of the CA II as are you. I see two reasons behind the failure of the CA I. First, Maoist, the then largest party, didn’t realise that the constitution is a consensus of diverse interests. It tried to impose its own-only agenda in the constitution in such a manner that it had won the war. Second, NC and UML (many of their leaders were out of the CA) were less -responsive and responsible as they had reasons that ‘no-constitution’ would not harm them. In fact, CA and the new constitution (overall change) was their ‘compulsion’ rather than ‘intent’.
The composition of the CA II has altered the political positions of these major parties. Maoist is in the position to realise that it needs to give up some of its interests in order to allow other interests to be in. Similarly, NC and UML –as largest parties- are in a position to be responsive and responsible. They should have internalised the need of change, and this time there is reason that ‘no-constitution’ would harm them most. And, no party can be expected to think of CA III.
This time, I have seen possibilities of consensus in the contested issues in the practical ground too. NC and UML are closer regarding the design of federal structure (against Maoist, Madhesis+) while UML and Maoist+ are closer in case of ruling system (against NC+). Consensus may be built in case of federalism in such a way that federal units are allocated as per ‘ability’ (as of NC-UML) and naming them with identity as long as it is feasible. Regarding ruling system, the major fear of NC (Prachanda may become executive president for a long time) should no more prevail after the result of the CA II, therefore it may come to adopt the system of ‘directly elected executive’ (either prime minister or president) instead of the west-minister system having produced a new government each year in the last twenty years. Let’s hope the CA II will produce the constitution that will break the historical trend of political unrest in almost every decade.

9. Sindhu Dhungana - December 19, 2013

Thank you Binod and Ramesh for the analytical essay. I basically agree with you both in many points you have raised in the essay. I would like to add few things though. I have some reservations in the ‘overuse’ of the phrase ‘agenda of change’ which has been repeatedly spread from some quarters since the outcome of the last CA election. This essay is also not far from this sentiment. It seems as though the parties which faced major loss in the last CA election (particularly UCPN-Maoist and Madhesh-based parties) were the ‘sole authority of change’. I counter this argument with some fundamentals of democracy. The concept of ‘change’ is a highly contested topic. Even the concept of ‘desirable change’ is debatable, let alone the unqualified term ‘change’. Who defines the limit of change? Who defines what is backward and what is forward? Besides the substantive aspect of democracy, we need to respect the procedural dimension of democracy as well when there is some contested issue. If we believe that the electoral people are the ‘supreme power’ (which corroborates the need of popularly elected CA, rather than a body of experts, to write up constitution), their verdicts should guide the political process including constitution drafting. Theoretically, people vote for the parties on the basis of their ‘election manifesto’, the leadership and their practices among other things. We believe they compare among the parties and vote for the one they think fulfills their aspirations. NC and UML should jointly go for the promises they have made in their manifesto. If they substantially distract from their promises in the name of ‘agenda of change’, it will be a betrayal to the electoral people. It will also be against the spirit of the procedural dimension of democracy.
Regarding the failure of the last CA in drafting constitution, I have some different opinions. First, the syndicate of top leaders of the three parties always debilitated the power of CA. The so called ‘young leaders’ of these parties never ever rebelled against this syndicate spirit in order to supremise the power of the CA to decide on every aspect of constitution drafting. Their chanting slogans just 2 hours before the dissolution of the CA seemed just an effort to continue their position, not an effective protest. They would have done it much earlier if they had been serious to draft the constitution. Second, a substantial lapse between the ‘rules’ and ‘practices’ of the CA process happened. For example, the CA members instead of strengthening the power of the ‘sector-wise committees’ of the CA, they tried to forge a number of inter-party caucuses, such as ‘janajati caucus’,’women caucus’, ‘madhesi-caucus’ etc. I would rather call them ‘extra judicial caucuses’ since there is not provision of such caucuses in any CA related rules or procedures. In parliamentary democracy, the caucus means the body of the elected members of a particular party. If we needed ‘inter party’ caucus, it would have been either the ‘CA itself’ or the various sectorwise committees of the CA. Instead of working in their own parliamentary body of the respective party, the CA itself and the sectorwise committees, the CA members spent their time in those informal caucuses and subsequently contributed to complicating the drafting process.
Let’s hope, the CA members including their leaders respect the norms of the CA in the days to come so that they will sort out the major issues and draft the constitution in one year.