BY the looks of things, the path for new CA by April/May, 2013 seems to be clearing. If an agreement for new polls by the timeframe can be struck within the next few days (as seems likely), the country would have made a big stride towards finally ending the prolonged transition. Now that the ruling coalition partners seem to have dropped their demand of settlement of important constitutional issues in advance, negotiations on new polls between major parties must already be underway. We hope they can work out a viable solution soon. As the last four-and-a-half years have shown, the old 601-avatar of the CA is unsustainable for a country of Nepal’s size. Also, the large size of the CA is believed to have contributed to factionalism and created unnecessary hurdles towards the resolution of important issues.
We believe the size of the new CA should be between 340 and 400 (preferably towards the lower end of the estimate). A member should be elected through direct vote from each of the 240 constituencies (as was the case in the last CA polls, although the final number of constituencies might yet change). The other 100-160 seats should be filled through PR system. The biggest objection to this arrangement could come from marginalized communities who are likely to feel cheated of their chances of due representation with the paring down of PR component to around 100-160 from the mammoth 335 in last CA polls. But this need not be a big concern if the parties are obliged to make their first-past-the-post list representative. For instance, a certain percentage of FPTP nominations can be reserved for marginalized and disadvantaged groups like women, dalits and janajatis. Another important provision could be cutting down representation from the already well-represented sections of janajatis and Madhesis in state apparatus in favor of the less well-represented sections of the same communities. This way, the electoral field can be made inclusive even without a big PR component.
We believe a right balance has to be struck between size and representation, and if proper measures are taken, it will not be very hard to work it out, provided the major negotiators are ready to engage in meaningful give and take. Prior to election of new electoral government, there also has to be a foolproof agreement to hold polls no later than May 2013, failing which the election will have to be pushed ahead by five more painful months. Appointment of election commission officials without further ado is also of vital importance. To its credit, the EC has made it clear that at full strength, it will not need more than three months to complete preparations, even after making adjustments for any change in the number and shape of constituencies in line with the new census. Besides these, appropriate distribution of important posts has to be ensured so that any one party’s attempt to abuse state machinery in the polls can be checked by other parties in the government. This point is vital, for the sole aim of the new government will be to hold new CA polls that can put the country’s derailed constitutional process back on track. Let the countdown begin.