The party leaders are used to agreeing to things in a 'package deal', and that is going to be the first order of business: forging a consensus on the composition of an interim government that will oversee elections. Past experience shows that those negotiations can drag on for months. If a deal is not struck by Dasain, the Baburam Bhattarai government could stay till mid-November and even beyond.
There seems to be an agreement that elections will be for a smaller parliament this time that will also initially double up as a CA. The polls could also be combined with local elections to save money, and to kickstart development and improve accountability at the grassroots.
There are differing opinions on the legal complications about announcing fresh elections, mainly because the interim constitution doesn't have provisions for another poll. But experts say the President could step in to remove obstacles following the doctrine of necessity, even though the stipulated ratification by a parliament within 30 days will not be possible.
Elections will also have administrative challenges: the Election Commission and other constitutional bodies are headless. Voting ID distribution hasn't been completed, and there will be 2 million more voters above 18 since the last election in 2008.
But by far the greatest danger is that it will be an ethnic election in which campaigning will focus on identity. Negotiations on the draft constitution were stalled earlier this year precisely on the point of the character, shape, and number of federal provinces. In the Madhes, for example, the election could be a de facto referendum on ethnic-based federalism. Given the temptation and willingness of various political leaders to whip up identity politics, the campaign period as well as election day itself could see violence. Janajati and some Madhesi activists are already threatening an agitation to protest the decision not to revive the CA.
It goes without saying that the Election Commission should be independent and have the necessary clout to punish those flouting campaign guidelines. It should also be vigilant about preventing irregularities, voter intimidation, and booth capturing seen in 2008. The parties may also revert back to their old habit of wasting time and postponing elections to buy time, and the EC should be empowered to crack the whip.
Despite all the potential pitfalls, Nepal needs an election to get moving again. A fresh mandate could lift the logjam, but only if a smooth all-party understanding can ensure voting that is free, fair, and peaceful.
Zero sum game, ANURAG ACHARYA
The recourse to new elections is the result of mutual distrust among the parties, rather than the need to seek a new mandate.