With ten days remaining until the national election, rhetoric is heating up wildly.
On November 19 Nepal will elect a new Constituent Assembly – a body charged with writing a reformed constitution that will also serve as an interim parliament. Parties are making grand promises, but are very short on details about how to meet them.
The Maoists, who fought a ten-year civil war to end the monarchy, took the largest share of seats in the 2008 election. Their party split last year, and a substantial minority faction is not participating in the election. They are actively trying to spoil it. The centrist faction remains in the polls though, and they are promising to triple GDP within five years, to provide full employment within 15 years, and to make education and basic health care free to all citizens. They offer no explanation of how they would achieve those goals though, particularly in light of the party’s longstanding practice of calling strikes and disrupting businesses in the name of egalitarianism.
The other prominent communist party, the center-left United Marxist-Leninists, promise to triple electricity production in ten years, to build housing for half a million poor and homeless people, to create 300,000 new jobs, and to implement unemployment insurance. That rings hollow to voters who saw no development or social reforms during the tenure of two UML-led governments since the 2008 polls.
The center-right Congress party is a bit more modest, promising only to grow electricity production by 60 percent and to construct a major new railway across the nation. Congress found it hard to produce even this much of a platform since the party is bitterly divided into two factions that can barely stand to talk to each other. If the party was to prevail in the coming polls, they would expend far more energy squabbling among themselves than moving the country forward.
The fourth major political block comprises a collection of parties representing the southern part of the country, which resents the historical political dominance of northern leaders and parties. Over half of the population lives in the south, but the southern block parties have no common agenda other than wanting to dislodge the older parties. They may win a substantial number of seats but will probably not be able to form a coalition to take advantage of that.
All of the larger parties hedge their promises by saying that they will only be able to deliver if voters give them a safe majority of the seats in the new assembly. That looks extremely unlikely, and the glaring failure of the first Constituent Assembly, elected in 2008, to write a constitution or provide economic development does not bode well for Nepal’s prospects after this month’s election.
The wild promises of the country’s would-be leaders will go unimplemented, to the surprise of no one in the increasingly cynical and frustrated electorate.