Sans constitution and elected bodies, Nepal's not even a nation state: Nischal Pandey

Published in The Times Of India, Interview with Nischal Pandey GPPAC member from Nepal.

Nepal holds elections for its constituent assembly tomorrow — but the run-up to polls has been violent, shaken by strikes and boycott calls. It's hoped these polls can establish proper political systems, including a complete constitution, ending Nepal's chronic upheaval — but this looks uncertain Nischal Pandey, director of Kathmandu's Centre for South Asia Studies, spoke with Sameer Arshad about mounting violence, pressing local concerns — and Indian versus Chinese influence:

How real are concerns that boycott calls could degenerate into violence — and derail Nepal's poll process?

Elections are facing continuous strikes, which a splinter group of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) called with others — we did not imagine things would be as violent as they've been. This is a big hindrance as to whether elections will be held.

Nepal today is the only nation in the world with no full-fledged constitution or elected parliament and government. We do not even have elected local bodies. It is a total political vacuum from top to bottom — Nepal is not even a nation state.

We have an interim prime minister who heads the executive as well as the judiciary. He even amended the interim constitution and increased constituent assembly seats from 585 to 601 — this makes him legislator also.

Are measures in place to foil boycotts and ensure polling?

Election preparations are underway — but the problem is law and order which has deteriorated and is being badly mishandled. The first mistake was declaring a very long holiday starting Saturday — that's given a psychological advantage to the Maoists that their strike is succeeding, the government is on its knees.

Army mobilisation was a good idea — but the police chief retiring two days before elections is a very bad one. Another major problem is snowfall in mountain districts, due to which many people will be unable to vote.

If there's low turnout and a hung assembly, opposing parties will say the process wasn't inclusive.

In a post-poll scenario, how intractable will issues like disagreements over American, French or British governance models be?

Crucial questions over federalism and which model to follow have not been resolved — these were the stumbling blocks for the previous constituent assembly.

Unfortunately, political parties have gone back to previous stands. The Nepali Congress wants the Westminster model. Maoists favour the presidential form. We'd agreed on the French model.

How serious are allegations of competing Indian and Chinese influence and their perceived favourites — Nepali Congress versus Maoists who've denounced India's role?

Indians and Chinese are mature players. They do not want to take sides and have no preferences. I'm sure they are wise enough not to do that — if you have preferences in volatile, fractured politics, you will end up on the wrong side.

I feel it's a wild fantasy that India is backing this party, China that. I think both want stability and peace and will work with whichever party comes to power.

Maoists denouncing India's role has been a problem — India becomes a convenient punching bag. But in this election, not much anti-India rhetoric has been seen. Domestic issues are the priority. Voters want electricity, drinking water and employment. Law and order and roads are more crucial questions than foreign policy.

What technical support is China offering Nepal towards conducting multi-party elections?

We have received support from many friendly countries, including the US and Europeans. The largest donor is India, of course. We've got vehicles, ballot boxes, etc. We could not agree on electronic voting machines this time.

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