Professor Ananda Prasad Srestha
Executive Director, NEFAS, Nepal
Let me make it clear at the start that this write-up is not an attack against the political system. Democracy has not failed us but our new leadership most certainly has. Therefore, it is criticism of the political leaders but at the same time knowing fully well that the criticism could rebound since we voted them to power in the first place. It also takes a hard look at the unfolding political drama that has held the country to ransom for months at a stretch. The role of intellectuals, the news media and the Civil Society, and uncalled for foreign interference in Nepal’s internal affairs is also critically observed.
While penning this piece the controversial budget, in whatever form, for the fiscal year was just presented by the Finance Minister in the hall of the Planning Commission after the shameful free for all that broke out earlier at the Constituent Assembly. If the whole idea of the Maoists was to prevent the budget from being presented, it could surely have been done in a civil manner without resorting to violence of any kind. The incident once more made the nation hang its head in shame! That we have been made a laughing stock of the international democratic community earlier on several occasions, thanks to our Loktantrik leadership is certainly not lost to us. As it is, the present caretaker government of Nepal is probably the longest in the world’s democratic history and that coupled with the 17th unsuccessful attempt in electing a PM should be enough to put us in the Guinness Book of World Records, but of course, for the wrong reason!
The three biggest political parties in the CA (Constituent Assembly) — the UPCN Maoists, the Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN- United Marxists— Leninists have been holding never-ending meetings to forge some kind of understanding to form a government, but without success. The crux of the matter is that each political party itself is desperate to lead a coalition government and the other two vehemently oppose this. Each political party maintains that it has the right to do so and has hardened its stance to an extent that now makes it impossible to retreat without a complete loss of face. For good or for bad this approach and the lack of provision in the interim constitution for an effectively hung parliament — has turned (lie whole matter of forming a new government into a never-ending and a deplorable political farce. It seems that the caretaker government is condemned to continue indefinitely. In short, the entire political process set in motion to replace the caretaker government seems to have lost all sense of reality, legitimacy and credibility.
The political drama that has unfolded in the country has gone on for too long. Now even the average person is beginning to suspect whether the Constituent Assembly will ever draft the much-hyped new constitution in the first place. The faith of the people in the new leadership is fast eroding and in the process, even the political system itself has faltered considerably. The much hyped ‘secret meetings of the three big parties that have taken place one after another in almost all luxury resorts of Kathmandu paid from the taxpayers money have yielded nothing. As one of the leaders of a minor political party put it, “.. .it matters little in which ban the parleys take place. Whether it is held in Hattiban, Raniban, or for that matter in Brindaban, unless there is the political will, realization and commitment among the big three to end the political stalemate in the name of the country and the people the talks will continue to be fruitless”.
No wonder the people in general have lost faith in the leaders. The very same reaction could also be seen from the local people near Hattiban who blamed the leaders for wasting the taxpayer’s money in luxurious resorts and then, like always, coming up with no solutions. It would be worthwhile if some media outlet makes public the number of times the leaders have met and the amount of the taxpayer’s money spent in the last couple of years to find solutions to the problems that they themselves have created.
The parties and leaders still go on parroting that a solution is at hand, that talks have been positive, things are looking up etc. Sometimes solutions were promised before Dashain, sometimes after Dashain, sometimes before and sometimes after Tihar but to no avail. Even to this day a solution to the crisis stands as elusive as ever. The people, though late, have now seen through the rhetoric as just a ploy to further confuse and mislead the people and the international community. Even after the declaration of the Republic, the leaders have not learnt from past mistakes and the general feeling is that now it is near impossible to draft and promulgate the new constitution in the next six months. Moreover, their inability to do so in the initially mandated two years further substantiates the case in point.
It is now common knowledge that lack of trust and prickly ideological differences, mainly between UPCN (Maoist) and Nepali Congress has hampered the formation of the new government and resulted in a stalemate thus, hampering the constitution drafting and the peace process. In the earlier developments, the Maoists and NC strategically sidelined their core ideological differences to come to the 12-point understanding on Nov. 5, 2005 in India, merely to gang up against the monarchy. None of the parties it now seems has really compromised on their core positions. Only history will judge whether Girja Prasadl Koirala’s move to disarm the Maoists and bring them into tile political mainstream was indeed a political masterstroke or political shortsightedness that did not pay off
The war weary Maoists on the other hand, were more than willing to use the peace process to stride the corridors of state power through peaceful means, as the political base of the Maoists as well as that of the NC had- become weak arid shaky in terms of both organization and ideology. Now the recently concluded Maoist’s Palungtar plenum indicates clearly that the party is also in an ideological confusion going by the sharp differences between the three Maoist heavyweights. If the hardliners in the Maoist camp maintain that the party should abandon the peace process, as it would not yield a People’s Republic as they envisaged earlier, the hardliners of the NC maintain that the party committed a political blunder by thinking that they could transform the Maoists into a democratic party. Now they have come to realize that transforming the Maoists is improbable if riot impossible
Besides, some five hundred Maoist fighters allowed by their party leaders to attend the plenum, in sheer defiance and violation of the peace accord do not bode well for future negotiations. That the move has closed doors to future negotiations has been voiced by the leaders of both the NC as well as by UML There are even speculations that the Nepal Army is now not obliged to stay confined to the barracks, as the Maoists have already violated the peace process. This clearly indicates that the future of the country now hangs in the balance!
What could complicate matters even further is the NC apprehension that the new constitution could well be dominated by the Maoist agenda and the Maoists have the morbid fear that the new constitution will be the result of a ganging up of democratic forces and sidelining the Maoist agenda for which they had struggled all along. Until some time ago, it was a win-win situation for both parties but now it is more than evident that they are both trying to dominate each other’s agenda/ideology. The sharp ideological differences between the NC and the Maoists has been the main obstacle in their inability to form a government, in drafting the constitution and taking the peace process to a logical conclusion.
Even leaders participating in the constitution drafting have admitted that the current stalemate is the result of an ideological war and once these issues are settled, then only can there be any understanding in drafting the constitution and moving the peace process forward. The claim by leaders that some eighty percent differences have been sorted out and that only 20 percent remains is a clear indication that the twenty percent are the core contentious issues in which there has been no breakthrough whatsoever, though the party leaders do not admit it.
The UML, the Madhes based parties and small fringe parties have also pressured the Maoists and the NC to come to some form of agreement at the earliest, as these two parties now occupy centre-stage. The Madhes based parties that have come together under a common umbrella of “One Madhes one Prades” in spite of their inherent differences have now developed a political clout of soils and raised prickly issues, which need serious, looked into. But as of now it is the ideological divide between the NC and the Maoists that stands as the main obstacle to all the knotty questions and problems whether it be the drafting the constitution or moving ahead with the peace process.
But going by the rigid stance that both NC and Maoists have taken respectively it seems that peace will continue to elude the people who undergo hardships on a daily basis. The NC has consistently demanded that the Maoists concede to a ‘democratic constitution’ encompassing nature of the judiciary, the electoral system, federalism and the modality of integration as pre-conditions to an alliance. The Maoists however, have refused to budge an inch and insist on drafting a People’s constitution (as fundamentally different from a democratic constitution) and the integration process to take place simultaneously as a necessary precondition. Their respective differences also on the definition of ‘political mainstream’ have further complicated matters.
As of now, only a few months remain for the new deadline in drafting a constitution. But going by the fruitless discussions/negotiations on contentious issues between the warring sides, it seems that unless there is sonic flexibility on both sides the solution to the problem will remain elusive. Hopefully, the Maoist Palungtar plenum will yield a way out of the impasse. Besides, the crucial issues like including the integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants, closure of the camps, return of the seized properties to rightful owners and control of the militant nature and activities of the YCL are other bottlenecks likely to obstruct the peace process. The number of combatants to be integrated also needs to be decided at the earliest. The apprehension of the NC and other democratic parties that a large number of ex-rebels may overwhelm the security forces and that it therefore be done in manageable numbers is another case in point
Though the international communities, through their missions and agencies in Kathmandu have talked of political consensus, the need for the drafting of a new constitution and the logical end to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the now warring parties, they have not breathed a word on the problems facing the people. Considering the way things are moving in Nepal and the way the major political parties and foreigners are making decisions, it is evident that the concerns of the citizens and the country are far from their minds
Though the international donor community has heaved a sigh of relief over the presentation of the budget, they remain wary of the slow political progress and its impact on development efforts. A strongly worded statement issued by the (USAID recently on behalf of the donor community calls on the Nepali leaders to show “genuine commitment to the peace process, transparency, accountability and tackling corruption” to accelerate progress in every sector. They further state that Nepal’s unstable political situation has made it increasingly difficult for many donors to justify why Nepal should receive support in a world where there are many competing demands for limited development resources. They have further pointed out that the slow pace in implementing the peace process combined with the continued caretaker status of the government; Jack of development leadership significantly reduces most donor’s ability to secure future resources for Nepal. Hopefully, this long overdue tough worded statement coming from the donor agencies will galvanize the leaders of the three main political parties into meaningful action. (Keep reading Telegraph for analysis on External Factors by the author next week)