New Year, New Nepal

New Year’s Day, 2065 – Nepal’s Maoists appear to have scored a major election victory last week, taking more than half of the constituencies where results have been announced so far. Although fewer than 100 of the 601 seats have been assigned, the consistency of Maoist victories in urban, rural, and southern districts is striking.

And with all the major international observation teams having now reported, there can be no doubt about the legitimacy of the polls.

It was a change election. Many veteran politicians, including UML chief Madhav Kumar Nepal, lost constituencies they have held since 1990. Nepal promptly resigned his party post. Octogenarian Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala did not contest the election and had announced his retirement before the poll, but his family members have all lost their bids, and the prospect for a Koirala political dynasty is now doubtful.

Both Koirala’s Nepali Congress and the UML will be stung by their distant second- and third-place finishes, and both have already started emergency meetings. The center-right Congress is bitterly divided into republican and monarchist camps; each will blame the other for the losses. The ever-expedient UML will court the republicans, and an uneasy NC/UML alliance is likely.

It may not be enough. It now looks possible that the Maoists will win an absolute majority of seats in the assembly. Even if they do not, smaller communist and left parties will be natural allies, and the southern ethnic parties will be generally supportive. The Maoists will probably not need either Congress or the UML.

Winners write history, and in this case a constitution too. Two things, at least, seem certain. The Shah dynasty will end in May, just three months short of its 240th anniversary, and there will be no military coup. The army’s loyalty to the last Shah king is too weak, and the will of the people is too clear.

Beyond those two certainties, the measure of the constituent assembly will be mostly about process. Only the behavior of the Maoists, once in the driver’s seat, will show whether President Jimmy Carter is right when he says that they have changed. A constitution built on compromise and consensus would convince even the Bush administration that the Maoists are politicians, not terrorists.

The constitution is important, but it’s not a new Nepal: the change that the Nepali people voted for last week isn’t just a Red Salute. It’s a school and a doctor in the village, safe drinking water, electricity, and a road. If a new Maoist-led government can begin to deliver those things while it writes a constitution, then it really will be a happy new year in Nepal.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.