Nepal On The Brink

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The only nominally democratic party in the seven party syndicate (alliance) and the Maoists (affectionately referred to as SPAM), the Nepali Congress (NC) has finally succumbed to the demands of the Maoists and Communists to put the question of monarchy or republic to a vote in a special session of the so-called interim parliament. At the same time the problem of proportional representation is also to be decided.

With tongue in cheek, the NC has also announced that all political parties should participate in the ‘democratic exercise’ and that the unity of SPAM was the main priority. This may be the highest priority for this government of national disunity to preserve its power.

Nepal on the brink
Nepal on the brink

For a truly democracy oriented government committed to the people, the highest priority would be to deliver on its promises. It cannot be stressed strongly enough that neither this interim parliament (as the very name implies), nor any other government not legitimized by free and fair elections is authorized to make such a momentous decision.

A vote on the above issues would be grossly illegal and unconstitutional and could be challenged in the Supreme Court. These were matters to be decided by the Constituent Assembly (CA). But SPAM wants to accomplish a fait accompli even before the elections. These have been conveniently postponed twice already.

PM Koirala, who had assured the general public that he would resign if the elections were not held on time, has broken his promises time and again, and stands accused of being a great fibber. We stand by our verdict that he is definitely the worst PM in Nepal’s history – both in the domestic arena and foreign affairs.

In the meantime, the Maoists have stepped up their extortion campaign in the countryside. They demand (and get) free board and lodging from the common people, their militia is supported financially by the government (for doing nothing), and in the trekking areas, the foreign tourists are being forcibly made to donate huge sums to ‘the noble cause’. If they had not, they would have been forced to return to their starting points.

The local guides have also been forced to cough up, otherwise they have been threatened with being kidnapped. Even the lowly porters and yak-guides, who stand at the bottom rung of the earning-ladder are being asked to pay.

So much for the Communist-Maoist solidarity with the working masses!

This does not auger well for the re-awakening in the tourism sector. ‘In addition to its beautiful countryside and the many temples and stupas and other historic buildings, Nepal can offer weekly bandhs, chukka jams, political riots and other violence, although timings are unpredictable. Which tourist would not be attracted by this?’

In the cities, it has become common practice for the Maoists and their thugs from the Young Communist League (YCL) to demand ‘donations’ in cash and kind from big and small businesses. Their tactics of intimidation continue unabated. The government, and especially the PM and home minister Sitaula, turn a blind eye to these gross breaches of law and order.

Koirala’s recent meetings with diplomats stationed in Kathmandu (alleged ‘consultations’) after postponing the CA-elections were an exercise in brinkmanship and/or damage control and nothing else. If our foreign friends really mean business, then they should make it clear to Koirala and SPAM that enough is enough, and that the reigns of power should be handed over to others willing and able to re-introduce the democratic process. After all, they should recognize Koirala’s stubbornness and intractability to grasp on to political power in spite of having no legal basis or authority whatsoever.

Sometimes people become so immersed in things that they lose sight of the obvious. This is what is happening in Nepal today. Recently, the UN Security Council expressed deep concern over postponement of elections, the Secretary-General’s special representative, Ian Martin briefed the Council on an increasingly “volatile” security situation, and Denmark expressed the view that all parties to the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) had neglected their commitment to and responsibility for the peace process.

The time for admonishing has long passed; it’s time for decisive action.

The Maoists by virtue of their relentless salami tactics have worn down the other constituents of SPAM. The Nepali Congress unerringly following a craven appeasement policy has offered only token resistance.

After incorporating the republican agenda in their party statute, they have, in fact, tacitly agreed to put the cart before the horse, i.e. proclaiming a republic even before the CA-elections. Their current stand is a complete sham to deceive an unsuspecting domestic public and the international community. If nothing else, Koirala has proven himself to be a crafty and dishonourable wheeler-dealer.

If the so-called interim parliament votes on the issue of monarchy/republic, then the whole political house of cards will implode and the rationale for the CA-elections will collapse. Then the despotic rule of SPAM can be guaranteed in perpetuity, and the Maoists will call the shots in larger measure. And these so-called democrats have the audacity to condemn the King for his dictatorial ways!

Only the Nepalese Army could still provide an effective bulwark against this inexorable downslide. Unfortunately, many self-seeking generals have ingratiated themselves with the corrupt politicians and are at their beck and call. A retired general is even functioning as a Maoist MP.

In order to block any resistance from the army, the Maoists and vested interests have frequently painted a dismal picture of an impending army coup d’etat. Not to be outdone, the army chief, Katuwal has hastened to assure the politicians (not the public) that this is not the case. The same army chief has also gone on record to solemnly state that the army will always be loyal to a civilian government which has ‘the mandate of the people’.

Now by what stretch of the imagination can the present care-taker government and the interim parliament be classified to have been elected by the people? Is it, at all, working in the peoples’ interests? The army has a duty to protect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests of the country. In the face of the antics of the political parties and the blatant interference by external powers in our internal affairs, is the army to remain a silent spectator?

We are not advocating a military take-over. The army is in no way equipped to administer and govern the country. Military dictatorships have been dismal failures, and moreover, ridden rough shod over basic human rights. The Burmese military junta is a glaring example. In Turkey, the army has been instrumental in upholding secularism and checking extremist Islamic tendencies. Thus, short of a coup, the army can be effective in many ways.

It cannot have been lost on progressive army officers that the democracy as interpreted by SPAM is not only a complete failure, but nothing but window dressing. It has deliberately cancelled CA-elections for a second time. Now, it wants to abolish the monarchy by illegal means. Are educated, trained and worldly army officers going to take these failed politicians at face value and let the interests of the nation go to the dogs?

In the absence of another effective national institution, the army can firstly, resolutely and convincingly demand the formation of a civilian government of national unity and reconciliation in which all important political parties and interests are incorporated – no risk, no gain. Secondly, this government must definitively set a date in six month’s time for a national referendum to seek the peoples’ approval on the vital questions of monarchy/republic and secular state. Thirdly, after the peoples’ verdict on these matters, after three months, CA-elections should be held. This would indeed be a realistic road-map which would make us masters of our own destiny.

The writers can be reached at: shashipbmalla@hotmail.com

Shashi P.B.B. Malla writes incisive political opinion about the politics and politicians of Nepal. He sometimes writes with fellow contributor, Chandra Bahadur Parbate.

Educated in Darjeeling, India, with a certificate from Cambridge University, he went to College and university in Calcutta: I. Sc./St. Xavier’s, B.A. (Hons.)/ Presidency, M.A. (International Relations)/Jadavpur, India. He was Assistant Editor: The Rising Nepal, Kathmandu.

He is or was the Country Representative, DAV Summit Club, Munich (Germany’s leading adventure tour operators in mountaineering and trekking)

He is a Senior Lecturer, Conflict, Peace and Development Studies, Tribhuwan University, Kathmandu