Carter’s Colossal Delusions

By Shashi P.B.B. Malla & Chandra Bahadur Parbate

The Nepal visit by former US President Jimmy Carter has unfortunately not brought any new insights regarding the troubled polity. In spite of a sizable presence of his Carter Center in Kathmandu and in the field, he has essentially failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation.

In short, he has missed (once again) the wood for the trees. To use another metaphor, he has succeeded eminently in muddying the already murky waters. To sum up: Carter may have had noble intentions, but his visit has been a great disservice to the Nepalese people.

Since Carter started off from the wrong premises, his conclusions have been totally awry. For him, without the Seven Party Alliance and their cohorts, the Maoists, there could be no solution to the myriad problems plaguing the country.

In fact they are the main obstacles in finding solutions, i.e. they can no longer be part of any meaningful equation. They had their chance, but misused it to the core. The Gang of Eight (the SPA and the Maoists) are up their necks in the quagmire und are unable to free themselves of their own volition.

Carter should have come up with radical measures, but his courage failed him, and his advisers did not have the far-sightedness, acumen or even understanding of Nepalese history and culture to suggest workable and necessary answers.

Let us examine his so-called proposals in detail.

He had the effrontery to actually advance the proposal that the ‘interim parliament’ declare with an “overwhelming vote” that a republic is created and that this should then be confirmed by a “simple majority” of the Constituent Assembly members.

It did not dawn on him that this was a complete travesty of all legal norms, of the constitutional process. In order to placate the Maoists and the Communists, he was willing to turn a blind eye to due process of law. Anyone following the events in Nepal over the past years can see that especially the Maoists will demand concession after concession after concession and never keep their part of the bargain.

Besides, such a course of action would have been unthinkable in his own country, or any other country wedded to democratic norms. But in a poor, (politically) underdeveloped country like ours, such things can be tolerated, or ‘the ends justify the means’ (does this sound familiar?).

Carter must have been aware that the Gang of Eight already has a very comfortable majority (Carter’s “overwhelming vote”) in the so-called ‘interim parliament’. Therefore, the actual arithmetic would not be a problem. The main point is that – as eminent constitutional lawyers and experts have argued – a question of such import can only be decided by the sovereign Nepalese people and only by them alone, and a fait accompli should neither be sought nor be accomplished.

Neither the failed politicians of the Gang of Eight, nor the ‘interim parliament’ have any valid mandate. Who is Carter to suggest that the Nepalese people be deprived of their inherent political rights?

Even a diehard anti-monarchist like Kanak Mani Dixit, journalist and political pundit, is of the opinion that the question of monarchy or republic is still unresolved in the minds of the overwhelming majority of the people. And here comes would-be statesman Carter and interferes in a most glaring fashion in our internal affairs to the detriment of our long-term interests.

He also came up with a cock-and-bull proposal regarding the election modalities, namely by allotting 70% of the Constituent Assembly (CA) seats to be chosen by proportional representation, and 30% by direct vote, i.e. first past the post system.

Carter did not elaborate or justify his reasons for this split. Just like a tricky magician, he symbolically took out these numbers from his magic black hat. Without any justification based on fact, logic or even empirical data, the best that can be said about this suggested split is that it adds up to 100.

This is not to say that a split between proportional representation and direct vote is not workable. Germany has experimented successfully with a mixed system combining both in a very justified manner. Half the seats to the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) are elected directly from the constituencies. The other half are elected by proportional representation, whereby the electors vote for the various lists of the political parties. In this second part, the MPs are elected according to the proportion of the votes received by their respective parties. This is a fair system, since the electorate can choose both the candidates of their choice and also the preferred party.

Carter also came up with the absurd suggestion that the “three major parties” (meant were the Nepali Congress, the CPN-United Marxists-Leninists and the CPN-Maoist) should each be allotted eight seats in the CA, and the other five smaller parties (of the SPA) one seat each.

This was probably meant as a carrot to goad the SPA to hold early elections and to ensure that all the constituent parties of SPA and the Maoists were represented in the CA. But why should these parties receive preferential treatment? It is the prerogative of the people to elect the MPs they want to represent them. Carter’s suggestion is totally undemocratic. At best it may be a rather crude attempt to accommodate ground realities, but of course this does not make the suggestion any more democratic.

Moreover, Carter has no stick to hurry the Gang of Eight towards this goal. All seem very comfortable with the present arrangement. They can make hay while the sun shines without having to seek a mandate of the people. They are making the appropriate noises, but not taking any concrete steps to hold the elections.

The former US President seems to have been genuinely frustrated with the pace of political development in the country. He established that there was considerable distrust among the political parties in power; many believing that the NC was only interested in prolonging its current position and power, and that the Maoists did not have the guts to face the electorate.

These are home truths that have been apparent for quite some time and repeatedly highlighted in this journal. It seems that he was assured by all the stakeholders that the parties would definitely reach a consensus by December 15 and that the long-awaited CA-elections would finally be held by mid-April 2008. This is just a pipe dream, and if Carter believes in his bosom friend Koirala and the other dons of the Gang of Eight, he is truly gullible. Only unforeseen circumstances, or an (unlikely) deus ex machina can force their hands.

The chief Maoist honcho Prachanda (nom de guerre/ ‘the Ferocious One’) has already advanced reasons why the CA-elections could not be held at the present juncture. First, he made the threat that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) might take up arms again, if the other political parties did not recognize “certain ground realities”, and that this time around, the “People’s War” would last 40 years.

Well roared Lion. Or was that a mouse roaring? The only thing that one should take note of is that former US President Jimmy Carter said in a news conference that efforts were underway to remove the Maoists from the US government’s terrorist list. As many other things he said also, that seems to have been a bit preposterous.

Second, he put forward his demand that the integration of the Nepal Army and the PLA must have been completed, before the CA-elections could be held. This is an impossible demand, because, if fulfilled, the government and the state would be at the complete mercy of the Maoist cadres and the thugs of the Young Communist League (YCL). Already now, they are holding the country to ransom by widespread forced donations, looting, arson, kidnapping and murder. People are, therefore fed up with the present government and their glib assurances. But no succour is in sight.

Third, and this is the height of impertinence, Prachanda insisted on the completion of the “progressive restructuring of the state” on racial, ethnic, gender and regional lines before the CA-elections! This is completely untenable, because the questions raised can only be resolved by a duly elected CA.

There can be no doubt now about the true intentions of the Maoists, and especially of their nefarious tactics and grand strategy to establish a totalitarian Communist-Maoist dictatorship. The other political parties are functioning as helping hands.

One kind reader of this newspaper metaphorically compared Carter’s first visit to Nepal This year with a ‘Peanut and Salmon with Dilli Masala’ dish. Taking up this metaphor, we are not sure what dish this second visit can be compared to. What we can say is, that it must be a meatless meal.

The writers can be reached at: [email protected]

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