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Landslide win for Nepal’s Reds


IT may feel like Nepal’s umpteenth election, but the polls that closed earlier this month were actually the first set of proper parliamentary elections in years.

The fact that the country has changed prime ministers at the rate of once a year since a republic was declared in May 2008 has certainly lent its democracy an air of instability.

The nine premierships in nine years stemmed from games of musical chairs between the three main parties – the Nepali Congress and two Communist parties, the United Marxist-Leninists and the Maoists.

All that has been blown out of the water now. The UML and the Maoists decided to enter the election as a coalition. And once their votes were no longer split, they gained a massive majority.

Under Nepal’s truly fair combination of first past the post and proportional representation seats (I have long argued that this is the most democratic system possible) the two Communist parties have scored a substantial win, securing 174 out of 275 available seats. The Nepali Congress comes lagging way behind with 63 seats.

So instead of the chronic instability that has defined Nepal’s landscape, a long-term regime can be expected.

This is particularly the case since the UML and Maoists have announced plans to merge into a single party following the elections.

Once the parties work out the distribution of power to the satisfaction of the various egos involved (there are likely to be at least four former prime ministers in the upper echelons of the incoming administration), the new Cabinet should be a stable one.

While outsiders may be wondering about the difference between the two parties, well, it’s pretty clear. The UML has been mainstream since the early 1990s when it played second fiddle to the Nepali Congress in Nepal’s fledgling multi-party democracy.

The Maoists on the other hand, waged a bloody guerilla war from 1996 to 2006, during which an estimated 18,000 combatants and civilians lost their lives. Tellingly, the UML outscored the Maoists in the popular vote category.

In recent times, however, all three parties have been better known for their horse-trading and there is impatience in a country that is still rebuilding from a devastating earthquake in 2015.

I’ve spent a few weeks in Nepal, traipsing up and down the landscapes in Pokhara, Kathmandu and Buddha’s birthplace Lumbini.

I felt the frustration of a country where electricity was still being rationed (and most people I knew had their own generators) and vast fresh water resources were yet to be tapped.

Since the 1960s, Nepal has been a haven for backpacking hippies and mountaineers alike, but surely there is room for improvement.

The sad truth is that many Nepali workers have been overseas in countries like Malaysia, helping to boost the rush to development instead of that of their own nation.

Enthusiasm over the new government, however, is tempered, with many just relieved to have a potentially stable administration instead of leaders constantly jockeying for power.

My friend Dinesh, who is a magazine editor and a blues musician, summed up his feelings: “It’s a massive win, but it doesn’t bother us because nobody has any ideology. It’s just about power and money-making. These guys are not real Commies and most are rich.”

Still, there are signs of development all across the board. In terms of participation of women and LGBT rights, Nepal is ahead of the curve.

And when it comes to real GDP growth per capita, its 2016 figures of 7.56% are the sixth highest in the world.

These are exciting times. The new leader, who is expected to be UML supreme Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, will have the tricky task of balancing two superpowers, India and China, that sandwich his country.

News editor Martin Vengadesan wonders what Nepal will be like when he eventually heads there for a third time.

Martin Vengadesan

Martin Vengadesan

Star Online news editor Martin Vengadesan grew up in nine countries spread over four continents and is both an avid student of global politics and an obsessive election-watcher.

   

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