April 13, 2008
posted by Jimmy Higgins
Votes are being counted in Nepal right now from Thursday's balloting to elect a new Constituent Assembly which will determine the future of the country's political and economic institutions. (You can track the vote counting hour by hour at the English language nepalnews.com website.)
The votes being counted first are those for "first past the post" elections in districts around the country, totaling 240 seats. Still to be calculated are the 335 seats in the Constituent Assembly to be assigned by proportional representation based on the total votes garnered by various parties.
Right now, Sunday morning in the US, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is kicking some serious ass. 114 seats have been decided and the Maobadi have won 63 of them. That's with 18 seats each for the two other major parties, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist)--despite the name a social democratic outfit at best--and the Congress Party of Nepal, the main center-right party in the country, which played the leading role in governing Nepal on behalf of its feudal royal family from 1990-2002.
[Update 4/15: Tuesday morning EDT, 212 "first past the post" candidates (biggest vote in constituency wins) out of 240 have been declared winners. CPN(Maoist) candidates have won 114 and with 28 seats undecided look certain to win a majority. Meanwhile the Maobadi also lead in counted votes under the proportional representation (PR) election system, with 37.42%. This count will continue more slowly.]
[UPDATE 4/14: Under 24 hours later, Monday morning EDT, the landslide continues. 179 "first past the post" (candidate with biggest vote in constituency wins) seats (out of 240) have been decided. 101 have been won by the Maobadi! Nepali Congress seems to be edging out UML for a distant second, 30 to 25, with smaller and regional parties splitting the rest. Vote counting has begun for the seats to be allocated by proportional representation, and the CPN(M) is reported to be leading there as well.]
CPN(M) party chief Prachanda won big in the Rolpa-2 district with 34,230 votes while the CPN (UML) runner up pulled only 6029. Another Maobadi leader, Baburam Bhattarai drew 46,272 votes in his constituency, beating his uncle (!), a Congress Party candidate by nearly 40,000 votes.
The CPN(M) victory is so clear that the leaders of both the UML and the Congress Party have already announced their resignations. And Prachanda and Bhattarai have met with the sitting Prime Minister to discuss where things go from here.
The US press will barely cover this but the stakes are extremely high. The constituent assembly will be voting to end the monarchy and establish Nepal as a democratic republic. So far the strategy of the Maobadi--putting the people's war it waged in Nepal from 1996 to 2006 on hold, and using the gains it won in combat to jam other parties into a political alliance aimed at abolishing the monarchy and establishing a republic--has been proved highly successful. The Nepalese masses have made their support clear.
People around the world will be watching to see how the CPN(M) handles being the dominant political party in Nepal and how its cadres plan to build a new society and move the country toward a socialist economy. The scale of their victory diminishes but does not eliminate the possibility of a coup by the Royal Nepalese Army, backed by foreign powers freaked out that a communist party has won such a massive national victory.
It will also be important to keep an eye on the US government. Nepal's large and intrusive neighbor, India, has grudgingly acknowledged the elections as fair and promises to deal with whatever regime comes forward. The Bush administration has made no such statement and continues to characterize the CPN(M) as a terrorist organization and maintain it on the list of "Specially Designated Nationals" with whom it is illegal for US citizens to do business.
I wonder if anyone from the mainstream media will ask McCain, Clinton and Obama to respond to the Maobadi victory.