Only partial results are as yet available but it is clear that the Maoists will be the single largest party in Nepal’s newly elected Constituent Assembly (CA). Results or leads for 200 of the 240 first-past-the-post (FPTP) seats are available and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has won or is ahead in more than 100. The erstwhile ‘ruling’ parties — the Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) — have been badly mauled and will be lucky to end up with more than 40 seats each. The newly established Madhesi parties, especially the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, have done well and are likely to bag about 40 seats. The Royalist parties have been wiped out. The Maoists are unlikely to have a majority of their own in the CA since that would mean winning 50 per cent of the PR vote. However, an individual majority is of little consequence because the interim constitution requires all major decisions, including the choice of Prime Minister, to be made by consensus, failing which by a two-thirds majority. With a guaranteed one-third of the CA seats and possibly more, the Maoists will have effective veto power. But they will need to work with the other parties to get anything positive done. It is in this spirit that the Maoist leader, Prachanda, has reiterated his party’s commitment to working with the NC, the UML, and others.
For the new arrangement to work smoothly, all the major political players in Nepal need to accept the new power balance. Official India, which erroneously worked on the assumption of a Maoist defeat, also needs to accept the reality of Maoist ascendancy. In practical terms, this means not standing in the way of the Maoists heading the multi-party coalition that will rule Nepal until the new constitution is finalised and fresh elections are held. The Nepali Congress as the largest single party is accustomed to holding the Prime Minister’s post as well as most of the portfolios. The Maoists have won the democratic right to lead now. Their spectacular victory seals the fate of the monarchy. As long as King Gyanendra accepts the people’s verdict with grace, there is no reason why he and his family cannot continue to live in republican Nepal as ordinary citizens. Other issues are likely to prove more challenging, especially the peaceful resolution of the Madhesi question and the construction of an inclusive, federal political system. The Maoist leadership must reach out to erstwhile rivals in a spirit of cooperation and consensus. If the aspirations of the people of Nepal are to be fulfilled, the divisiveness of the past six months must not be allowed to cast its shadow over a promising future.