Kathmandu: Polls in Nepal that had been plagued by pre-election violence have passed off smoothly, but analysts warn it is still early to declare peace as yet.
The elections yesterday, saw a strong turnout, a sign that voters wanted to give a resounding backing to efforts to turn the page on a decade-long Maoist revolt.
It was a major achievement for the Maoists: in the run-up to the polls they were under fire for bullying voters, but polling day passed off surprisingly peacefully with only sporadic violence reported.
“I congratulate the people of Nepal, who have demonstrated their commitment to democracy by turning out in large numbers to vote,” said Ian Martin, head of the United Nations’ peace mission in Nepal.
New constitution to be rewritten
When complete results emerge over the coming weeks, Nepal will have a new 601-seat assembly that will tear up the country’s past status as a Hindu monarchy and rewrite a new constitution from scratch.
But analysts say this process -- from the counting of ballots to the eventual expected sacking of unpopular King Gyanendra -- will be no easy ride for a country that has a history of political instability.
The challenge will be for Nepal’s two biggest mainstream parties and the Maoists -- the once bitter foes who signed a peace pact in 2006 -- to see through their often awkward marriage of convenience.
All the parties have their own road maps and the key would be to create harmony between the big three parties, namely the Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).
Strains could start to show shortly after votes have been counted, said Rhoderick Chalmers, Nepal’s country director for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
“The very first challenge will be to get to the end of the counting process and have major parties accept the results,” said Chalmers, echoing UN concerns.
This could be toughest for the Maoists, who have to reconcile rival factions within the party -- those ready for realpolitik and those still married to the revolutionary dogma that fuelled their “people’s war.”
If that dichotomy is resolved, the new Constituent Assembly will have to grapple with what to do with the king. “It is not really specified what is meant by ‘implementing´ a republic. Some individuals or small parties might try to shift the goalposts and reopen the question of whether the monarchy should be abolished,” Chalmers said.
Political analyst and author Khagendra Sangraula agreed that getting the new assembly to work together would be a difficult task.
“They come from such diverse backgrounds, it will be extremely hard for the 601-members to agree,” he told AFP.
However, managing to make it through Thursday’s polls in the first place is a solid step forward for Nepal -- a country still reeling from a war that left more than 13,000 dead, and still ranked as one of the poorest places on Earth.
“All these problems are not going to be solved in a day,” Sangraula said. “But the process to solving them has been started with the constituent assembly election.”