The following interview with Jimmy Carter, former US President and founder of The Carter Center, was conducted today by Narayan Wagle, Prateek Pradhan, Damakanta Jayshi and Dinesh Wagle today in Soaltee Hotel. Photo by Chandra Shekhar Karki via Kantipur
Jimmy Carter: This is my third visit in the last nine months. I have begun to feel home here. And I came early on back in the 80s. Went up to Pokhara and Namche. So I love this country, beautiful terrain. I am praying for peaceful and successful elections.
What makes you so much excited about coming here time and again?
One of the major purposes of the Carter Center which has been operating for more than 25 years since I came out of White House is to promote peace and democracy and freedom and we have a policy of helping with elections that we felt were troubled and that we might be of assistance.
This is our 70th election, one of the most interesting and exciting. This is the first election that I come three times. I came here in June, I came here in November and this is the third time. But we are very excited about the prospect of this country finding peace and also finding democracy based on a republic.
I think that’s going to be a wonderful achievement. ……if it …reached.
Mr President, when and how did Carter Center get involved in Nepal’s peace process?
As a matter of fact, the Carter Center has another motive of promoting peace, not just in elections. So beginning in 2003 we began to work with the royal family and with the seven political parties and with the Maoists to try to mediate the dispute and to end the war. We arranged meeting with different groups who came sometime in the Carter Center’s office in Atlanta, Georgia. And we had also session at a university in Boston, Massachusetts in order to try negotiate a peace agreement. We have been involved in that long. And when the government decided to hold elections and I decided to volunteer and we were invited by the seven parties and by the Maoists. If we think we can be of help.
How do you assess the situation now, two days before the elections?
I think the compromise reached with the 40 percent and 56 and the four percent [for the first past the post and proportional electoral systems] is certainly satisfactory with the international observers. And I think that the negotiations that have been …are the best compromise that could be reached.
When I was here before I made just an unofficial recommendation of 70 percent and 30 percent because I thought that the due constituencies…the former marginalized groups should have a larger role to play. But this compromise is a decision made by people of Nepal. Of course we do not have any authority to insist on the suggestion that I made. So I think this is a fine solution provided everyone accepts a peaceful commitment to the elections that at the end will accept the result when the elections are over.
We have met with the leaders of all three major parties. Each one was quite certain that they will have a majority. As is the case with the elections in my country, one party might be happy and others might be disappointed.
What do you think of the major challenges during election time?
I think the first of all in all the constituencies that you have to maintain unanimous and peaceful relationships among all the constituencies that you have is a great challenge. I pray that all the process will be peaceful. They have a peaceful election but there are intense feelings especially because of the 10 years of warfare and its difficult to forget about all those things when we go to decide who will lead this nation in future. So I think there exists an intense feeling of incompatibility between some of the groups.
Another major challenge is an outbreak conflict that might result in injury or death. I think genuinely high expectations of all three major parties…. two of them are going to be disappointed, may be all three but they have to be willing to accommodate one another. I have heard all three leaders of all three parties and to give a deep commitment to call for a unity government coalition government after the election is over in order to have peaceful relationships as they draft the new constitution and as they govern the country for two years or more. So I feel good about the elections at this point.
Carter Center has observed elections in many places in the world. How do you see the experience?
We have negotiated in countries where the election ends the war. And so this is not a unique experience for us to see the electoral process-bringing end to the conflict. That’s not extraordinary. This election, the compromise that has been reached up is very complex, much more complicated than most of the elections that we had. Not anymore complex than in my country, the election process. It will be almost impossible to explain our arrangement in an hour.
I see this election as doing two things basically: one is ending an armed conflict. And secondly forming a new republic with an end to the dominating royalty.
And for the first time I believe opening up to the marginalized groups to have a genuine role in determining their own future. And provide them opportunity to play a more important role in society.
How do you plan to observe the election?
My wife and I ordinarily go as a team. She does the tabulations and I ask the questions and we have to stay in the capital city because people of the Carter Center all over the country report to the central place. And if they report a serious problem in extreme western part of this country or in the southern part the country I will go to the election commission to report the problem we heard by radio and we try to resolve it.
In some cases — I don’t anticipate that is happening here — we found that the EC is not honest. I think here you have a very free and wonderful election commission. In some countries the EC is in bed with the ruling party and they try steal the election. In that case we call a press conference with an international press and try to reveal the faults. In this country I have no doubt that the members of the EC have very high esteem. They are very honest people have done their best.
So what my wife and I will do is to go to as many as different polling places and constituencies as possible. We have vehicles and our staffs will go ahead of time.
In some election days my wife and I visit forty different polling places or about 25 different polling stations all around. And we receive reports from all of our 62 observers scattered all over the country where they are. At the end of the day, we try to go to some representatives of troubled voting places to observe the counting of the process. And we try to monitor the tabulations and the results.
If there is trouble, will you call the party leader whose cadres are involved in trouble?
No, we would ordinarily go to the election commission and bring the problem to them. We do not call to the individual party. Only authority we have any authority, we don’t want any authority. The only authority we are given by the EC is we have credentials from them and we are observers, we don’t give commands to anyone.
Maoists have said that they will takeover the country if they didn’t win significant numbers of seats. What did Prachanda tell you?
They didn’t tell us all that. What they told us was that they will accept the results of the elections. I think all of the parties …if the elections are fraudulent they can’t accept the results. But that’s why the international observers and domestic observers are here. My own personal honor and reputation is at stake. I wouldn’t lie about an election in Nepal and I think people from the EU, and from other places have come here in good faith and we will tell the truth.
And in almost every case, in all of the complex elections.. I have actually observed the election when the war is still on back in Nicaragua. We do the best so we can tell the truth and to convince the losers who are disappointed to accept the results.
Because you can play a strong and good role in future in shaping you will have another chance in the next elections in the democracy. So peace is what your own people want. We have gone through this many times.
You expect peaceful situation in Nepal after the election results are come?
Yes, I do. I expect peaceful situation.
Talking about Nicaragua…UML and Maoist leaders ….says to follow the armed group there and it too long for the party to come to power. Maoist’s argument is that they will not follow the Nicaraguan example…
Now they are ruling parties after so many years.
I have monitored four elections in Nicaragua and Sandadista lost three elections and won the fourth one. And the first election was during the war. They thought they were going to win. They lost. And we tried to induce Sandinista to accept the results. We try to meet the victorious and to induce them to accept the result.
In most cases we have been successful, we and other groups. I don’t want to take too much credit for the Carter Center. We try to convince them that to go back to war will be contrary to the wishes of the most of their own supporters, contrary to the best interest of their nation and contrary to their best hopes for more political influence in the future. Sandinista lost three elections and they finally won because they participated in the opposition. If any of the parties are disappointed, say the Maoists, if they would permit us, after they are disappointed – I am not saying they will be but if they are..
I am not trying to exaggerate our influence which is minimal but most parties, even extreme revolutionary groups are very interested in their international reputations. They want to be looked at by the rest of the world as enlightened people committed to the peace.
I personally think that the formerly marginalized groups …are great deal to the Maoists because they are groups that insisted upon maximum participation by the Madeshi and by the dalits people. I hope they will be peaceful. And if they are disappointed, they have to look to the future and build a permanent base.
Do you believe Maoists when they say they will participate in multi-party competitive politics?
I think so. You have much more knowledge than I am. It seems to me in the last year or more that Maoists have proven that want to get out of the revolutionary stage and being accepted in broad based political arena.
I think that’s their primary desire. I don’t know enough about the Young Communist League if they will accept a disappointing result. I hope they will. Tens of thousands of people who support the Maoists want a peaceful nation. They want their family to live in peace, they want their children to be educated. They want farmers to be able to grow their crops so that they can have normal life, they don’t want to stay in a permanent system of warfare, death and destruction and deprivation of normalcy.
Maoists have been very much critical of US government role of Nepal. On the other hand they have invited you and given this much of respect and stature. Do you the US govt policy toward Nepalis, towards Maoists has been right until now?
No. I have been very critical of my nation’s policy towards Nepal. When the Maoists laid down their arms within cantonments and joined the government, in my opinion our government should have recognized them as legitimate political party and deal with them as did almost all other nations in the world. I think that would have beneficial impact on the inter-relationships here. It is my personal opinion…I think the Maoists would be very protective of working relationship with the US government if it existed. I think the US government could have had beneficial impact on the Maoists if they had met with them, talked with them and try to understand their demands.
What makes the US government having so conservative view of Maoist?
The last thing I would try to do is to explain the policies of the Bush administration in Washington. The carter center monitored among the three elections among the Palestinians. This is our 70th election. The three best ones we have ever done were the Palestinian elections. Honest, peaceful, no complaints. In the last election we did there in January 2006 Hamas was the recognized political party to the contest. The US accepted that participation. After they won, then US wouldn’t recognize their right to stay in the government. We have the same kind of improper policies in many cases. We don’t have any relationships with Syria, North Korea. So I don’t agree with it because in our country the government has the right to set their own policy. I am a Democrat, they are Republicans. I believe this is counter productive for us to refuse to talk to and negotiate with people with whom we have disagreement. We don’t agree with Iran so we don’t have any relationship with Iran. So I think it would be better here if we can work with Maoist once they laid down their weapons.
Would Nepal set any specific example before the in international if it successfully holds the CA election?
Yes. The biggest example that I have seen already in the decisions made by the acting government is brining in the previously marginalized groups to participation not only in political aspect of this country, but also I think in the future on an equal basis as citizens to serve in the army and other positions in the society. I think this is unprecedented incorporation of previously excluded groups from participation in the political process. It’s a wonderful example. I don’t know of another example in the world where this profound change has taken place to bring in previously excluded groups. And if it works it will be a notable contribution to international politics.
What keeps you going?
Well, to me it’s interesting and challenging and gratifying life that we have at the Carter Center. We are involved in above 70 nations around the world, 35 of those countries are in Africa where the people are poorest and most in need. Three-fourths of our budget and people are devoted to diseases, terrible diseases that exist in the developing world in Africa and Latin America and so forth. …Try to deal with these diseases and promote better production of food. If those nations have problem with difficult elections or an outbreak of a civil war then we try to help them. So it’s a very exciting life for us at the Carter Center. It’s challenging, invigorating and unpredictable in nature.