Contributed by: Bishnu Pathak, PhD and Chitra Niraula
The concern of people of all strata in Nepal is whether the election of Constituent Assembly (CA) will be held on April or postponed again. There is a huge political dispute and debate going on among the political parties. The international community is also unsure of the condition and has taken the stand of ‘wait and see’. The civil society too is clinging to the thin thread of CA polls. The PM Girija Prasad Koirala was saying that he would resign if CA is not held and his basis to work would be finished 56 days prior to the first CA schedule (mid-June 2007). However, the Election Commission (EC) issued a statement that the polls would require 110 days for preparation and could not meet the deadline, which led to postponement for the first time. People believe that the statement was put forward through the EC because to save the image of NC (particularly the PM). The second date fixed was Nov 22, 2007, which was postponed because of the debates instigated by two issues raised by Maoists: declaration of republic and full proportionate electorate system.
The issues have settled to some extent. Dramatically, this time, the Interim Government finally declared again the date (April 10, 2008) for the CA polls for the third time. The EC following the instructions of the govt. has issued the schedule: requested the political parties to submit their close list for proportionate election by Feb 20, 2008, correct list by, Feb 21-27, withdrawal or corrected list submission from Feb 28 to Mar 5, verification of candidates March 27-13 and March 28 for final list of candidates and provision of election symbols. Similarly for first-pass-the-post the list of candidates to be submitted by Feb 25, complaint lodging by Feb 27, withdrawal of candidacy by Feb 29, final list publication by EC on March 1, and provision of symbol on March 2 and 36 days have been provided for election campaigning.
This article deals with empirical study of the CA being a critical issue for the peace process focusing on opportunities and challenges.
The peace process is slowly moving ahead, although at the snails’ pace, through 12-point Understanding, 8-point Agreement, Comprehensive Peace Accord, Arms and Army Management Agreement, establishment of UNMIN, Declaration of Interim Constitution, 23-point Understanding, etc. as milestones. The confident-building measures amongst the SPA has been built-up for the CA elections reaffirmed, consensual decision-making procedures has been reestablished, the Maoist came-back into the government. There has been a thin ray of hope that CA elections will be held within 2064 B.S. (2007/8). Greater numbers of ethnic and regional representatives have been ensured into the 23-point understanding.
The Maoist Ex-combatants are confined in cantonments. UNMIN has verified the combatants and reduced the number to 19,602 out of 31,318 (62.59%) for reintegration and rehabilitation. They are ready for mainstreaming in the peace and progress of the country.
Maoists are conducting their Central Committee meeting to prepare for the polls and have changed from bullet to ballot. The end of the unitary system of government and declaration of federal structure is a step towards inclusivity of all caste/ethnicity and cultures.
Agreements have been reached by the government with Dalits, Janajatis (ethnicities/nationalities), Madhesi, and so on to integrate and concretize their representation.
The SPA jointly organized a mass meeting in Kathmandu for the first time and declared to host similar meetings in six other places.
• Devoid of political process: The priority task in the post conflict period is to bring the rebel forces to mainstream political process. The peace process – advocacy, training, skill enhancement, etc. – in Nepal has traveled two years, but nothing concrete has been done in this regard by national or international agencies/forces. The lack of this could cause hindrances to participate in the CA polls. Maoists also have no solid program in relation to augment the competency political process of its leaders and cadres, and rank and files. Their bullet trend is still lingering in their mentality, which might overshadow the ballot.
• Integration of the PLA with Army: The Chief of Army Staff, Rookmangad Katwal, prior to departing to China on Jan 6, 2008 said that the Dharma (duty) of Nepali Army to adhere to the force having the people’s mandate, which should not be influenced by any ‘ism’, political motivation and ideological indoctrination. Immediately upon the Army Chief ‘s return, he PM had sent his special envoy to gather information relating to the talks in New Delhi. On January 8, the PM stated in the press conference that integration of the army of a political party into national army would lead to politicalization and revolt. He further said that Maoist ex-combatants could be involved in self-employment and country’s development activities. The statements seem to emanate from deep consultations between the two. Maoist Supremo, Prachanda the following day said that his party has taken the statement by the PM immediately after the Army Chief’s statement against the spirit of the CPA in regards to the integration of PLA very seriously. He further said that the statements could have originated to create confusion among the Maoists since they were preparing for the CA polls. He added that the twice postponement of CA polls was due to NC, but was charged to Maoists and said the NC hopes that Maoists would come to the streets causing the disturbance to hold the election.
When the Army Chief returned from his visit to India, he said that there was no communication with the Army UQ in regards to integration of the Maoist ex-combatants in the Nepal Army. He was refuting Prachanda’s statement on Nov 24, 2007 at the seventh anniversary of the PLA that they were conducting meetings concerning integration with the Nepal Army.
This duet on the issues of integration has led to speculate who is powerful – the PM or the Army Chief? Which wags – whether the dog wags its tail or the tail wags the dog? Currently, the PM has declined that he ever had said so and excused that the media has not understood his ‘English’. Thus, the Army Chief looks to become the scapegoat of this dispute. All the Understandings, Agreements and Accord have not clearly spelled out about the integration of the PLA in National Army. The Part 20 of Interim Constitution (IC) under (Article 146) Interim Provision for the Combatants says that the Council of Ministers shall form a special committee to supervise, integrate and rehabilitate the combatants of the Maoist Army, and the functions, duties and powers of the committee shall be as determined by the Council.
Thus, on one hand, Maoists have been encouraging the PLA by integrating them into National Army but the government is not inclined to do so. Similarly, the government looks not in the position to take action against the Army Chief. The Army Generals who had met with Maoist leaders twice in posh hotels are not easy. Pasang, Baldev and Prabhakar, three out of four Deputy Commanders of PLA had strongly criticized the Maoist Leadership in regards to ambiguity on the issue of integrating PLA in National Army. Derailment of CA is imminent, if the issue is not solved on time.
• Insecurity: The Chief Commissioner of EC said that it is more difficult to hold the polls than in Nov 2007. On the one hand, the inhabitants of Tarai are seeking peace and security prior to elections, whereas on the other civil servants in Tarai districts are being kidnapped and killed. Since long, employees in public offices are absent from their posts. The civil servants assigned as polling officers to Tarai have said that they would not abide the instructions, and if the government puts pressure over them, they would resign. Some hill– and mountain–originated Tarai dwellers have either fled or in hibernation due to insecurity. The East-West Highway passing through Tarai is regularly being obstructed. Traders and business people in Kathmandu are being kidnapped and killed by criminal gangs. The increasing insecurity is creating environment that is against the elections.
• Parallel Government: There seems to be two governments in Nepal, one is led by Girija Prasad Koirala and the other by Prachanda. The dissatisfied senior officials of the Girija Government often venture to Prachanda’s court for support. Maoists also are providing shelter to such officials. This is evident from the center to the village. Maoists are also a party to the Girija’s government.
• Implementation of 23-point understanding: The Understanding states, “it is our first national agenda to ensure that the CA elections is held. We have already passed the decision to allow the destruction of the house completes in Chaitra, 2064.” In this statement, the parties also heartily appeal to provide service to all the political parties, civil society and people working for professional organization in order to ensure that the elections 2064. The past experience shows that understandings in the paper have not turned into reality and there are no traces of initiation of implementation of the Understanding.
• Fear of defeat: In June 2007, the Maoists were strong, but NC was not united and UML was also between them. The national and international forces suggested, particularly the NC, not to go for election. However in November 2007, after getting some support of Man Mohan Singh (Indian PM) UML was encouraged to go for election; but the Maoists were drawn back by YCL activities, and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai had publicly stated that why go for election that is sure to loose. The 22-point demands of the Maoist also played its part in deferral of the polls. The party and leaders, who have been detached from the common people, do not seem to feel the aspirations of the people whereas the people are turning against them. The civil society is also divided and passive, they are not comfortable to participate in the campaign for the polls. The NC, Maoist and UML fear that they might loose their present positions, although the Maoists seem to dive deep for the CA, as they seem to have taken CA as a stake. Maoists look ahead to other parties by announcing that their 35 Central Committee members, including Prachanda, will give their candidacy. The PM fears that his daughter might not be the first woman Head of the State if the State goes to the CA election. UML also has not expressed its fervor for the polls as earlier. Maoist political paper passed by its Central Committee stipulates double standards: the urban movement will be turned into people’s revolt if there is no timely polls. All parties are playing ‘hide and seek’ with the CA election.
• Undeclared alliances of the leftist and rightist forces for CA: The groundwork among the Communist parties and groups are underway for the CA. Similarly, the Maoists are striving for the alliance of Nationalist forces. The NC also is trying its most to collaborate with different forces such MJF, TMLP and so on.
• Madhes violent/non-violent conflict: Rajendra Mahato, Leader of Nepal Sadhbhawana Party has said that idea to hold elections with force despite the problems in the country will lead to secession. The Minister of Home has stated that the elections will be held by any means. Mahanta Thakur, Chairperosn of the recently formed Tarai–Madhes Loktantrik Party (TMLP), who had left NC and is still close to it, said that election could not be held unless autonomous Tarai, full proportionate election system, and proportional representation of Madhesi in all State mechanisms is accomplished. Madhesi Janadhikar Forum and Adibashi Janajati Mahasangh have announced to foil the polls if the 22-points and 20-points Agreements respectively are not fulfilled. The government has taken it lightly to develop and implement the strategy to address the Madhes issues and problems, and if this procrastination is continued, Tarai would be factor to flop the polls.
• Unity among the pro-monarchial forces: The SPA has sidelined the other forces so that the pro-monarchial forces are pushed to align. The Rastriya Jana Shakti Party led by Surya Bahadur Thapa, which was separated from the Rastriya Prajatantrik Party four years ago, is becoming closer and closer to it. Other forces also are clamoring that there is a need of an alternative to the SPA.
• Political Consensus: Within two weeks of the signing of the 23-point Understanding, Girija announced Sujata Koirala, his daughter, as a Minister without Portfolio looking after PM’s office bypassing the SPA consensus. Other leaders, including NC, and parties opposed the appointment. He had proclaimed during a women’s gathering that there will be a woman PM in the coming years. As she had married a German and lived there for many years, it is a concern that she might have dual citizenship. She had spoke in a public rally the next day that the king could be an evil but not monarchy as an institution. Sher Bahadur Deuba, was called to apologies for that statement during the first joint election gathering of the SPA The trend of family or hierarchy to power is widespread in the South Asia, which is the continuation of Gandhi (ism), Bhutto (ism) and so on.
• Koirala and RAW: According to Nepal Magazine (year 8, issue 21), Girija Prasad Koirala admitted that the plane was hijacked (in 1960s) following the instructions of Rameswar Nath Kao, the then RAW Chief. He had met with a Marwadi called ‘Sharmajee’, at Mumbai, who had given him huge amount of money many times. He also said that Sharmajee traded in gold and uranium. Once police in Mumbai held Sharmajee’s delivery and Girija was called to free it. He had accepted that he had ordered to print and circulate counterfeit Indian currency. India had pressured Girija repeatedly to reduce the seat of first pass the pass and increase that of proportionate. Shyam Sharan, ex-Ambassador of India had proposed 40% for direct and 60% for proportionate as opposed to Jimmy Carter’s. As a final effort, India sent Ashok Chaturbedi, Current RAW Chief, to Nepal on December 22, 2007, who met with prominent figures including Girija to pressure on it. This time, they were not able to disobey RAW and the following day the 23-point Understanding was reached. Maoist leaders also met with them and the forces opposing Indian interference were quiet this time. There is only one chance to hold the CA election, if RAW puts sufficient pressure over him.
Nepal’s peace process would reach at the tip of a crevice if the recent 23-point Understanding between Maoist and SPA is not taken as a guiding principle to conclude the CA polls. The government will not only loose national and international credibility but also the tie amongst the SPA would break up. The PM’s moral and political basis for remaining in the post will collapse. Maoists will turn to People’s Revolt and the pro-monarchial forces will come to the forefront as an alternative to SPA. The Tarai volcano will burst and lead to secession. In an overall, there is very less possibilities for CA polls, because Nepal and Nepali people have not seen the leadership that marches with the advancement of time. Since the Popular Movement II, people are far ahead of the political leadership. The change will only become a reality when the awareness of the people is absorbed by the leadership. If the leadership lags behind the change, there is the risk of displacement of leadership. Jasari surya lai hatkela le rokna sakinna, tyasari jana chahana lai pani rokna sakinna (people’s zest and zeal could not be blocked just as the sun rays could not be stopped by palms).
The successful, free and fair, CA polls could free the country from the clutches of the SPA. Nepal will be in reality a country common to all the ethnicities, nationalities and classes. Free and fair election is the common agenda of the country. The successful CA polls is moral and strategic victory of Maoists albeit it looses the seats. The Federal Structure Republic and CA polls with proportionate representation are the outputs of the Maoist’s sacrifice and struggle. UML also agreed to both these agenda feeling the people’s veins. The Maoists and UML dragged the NC to where it is now with huge difficulties. There is a chance for Communist’s majority if the Maoists and UNL forms an alliance, their first antagonist will be NC and then the nationalist forces. There is a chance for the turning point of history in Nepal as the communists in different countries like Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Venezuela, etc. have taken liberal stance and ascended to power through elections.
Assisted by: Prem Pathak, Ganga Puri, Rushma Shakya and Reeta Chaudhary