Carter’s Nepal Prescription

Polls, compromises, and renewed commitment from all sides

Former US president and Nobel laureate Jimmy Carter has finished his four-day visit to Nepal by presenting written suggestions for compromise to the deadlocked parties. The Carter plan calls for polls soon, with adjustments to the terms, and asks both the Maoists and the government to live up to their previous commitments.

Carter wants polls as soon as possible, with an adjustment to the two-part voting system. The current interim constitution calls for seats to be divided equally between a direct election and a proportional vote by party. Carter has suggested a 30 percent / 70 percent split, giving added weight to the proportional poll. This should benefit small and ethnic parties and Nepal’s Maoists, who have stalled the election over fears that they will not do well in a direct vote.

Secondly the Carter plan calls for abolition of the monarchy immediately after the election, with the option for the constitutional assembly formed by the election to reinstate it. A deal last year between all parties, including the Maoists, left the decision on monarchy up to the first assembly session. Lately the Maoists have reneged on the agreement, citing “changed circumstances,” and have called for abolition before an election.

Third, Carter also asks all parties for renewed commitment to their previous agreements. He calls both sides to task and listed specific failings.

Carter says the Maoists have continued violence, extortion and intimidation through the Young Communists League, and he said that the group’s activities were “unacceptable and damaging the image of the Maoists at home and abroad.” Carter also said the Maoists had not returned land seized during the conflict, a key term of last year’s peace agreement.

The government has yet to fulfill its promise to pay Maoist army soldiers in cantonments under the peace terms, and to provide decent facilities for them, said Carter. But he also noted that the Maoists had not provided an accounting for about $1.3 million already given to them for the cantonments. He called on Maoists to release all child soldiers in the camps. A United Nations task force verifying Maoist soldiers in the cantonments has not yet reported its findings, but leaks from the team have suggested that a substantial portion of the 35,000 Maoists in the camps may be underage or recently recruited.

Carter faulted the government and the Nepal Army for taking no steps towards integration of the Maoist combatants into the army, also part of the peace agreement, and he criticized both the army and the Maoists for failing to account for people missing during the conflict.

Carter attributed the current political deadlock to mutual mistrust and misunderstanding that “has been exacerbated by the failure on both sides to implement key provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Accord.” “These promises cannot be separated from the election process, and they should be fulfilled in order to rebuild the trust among political leaders,” he said.

The former president’s suggestions for modifying election terms and constructing a compromise declaration of republican intent are sensible and consistent with proposals already circulating in Kathmandu. But his calls for implementation of earlier agreements will have little impact. The power of the YCL and the fiction that all Maoist soldiers and arms are sequestered in the cantonments are too important to the Maoists to give up. Likewise the government can’t have issues of Maoist integration and the “disappeared” – mostly by the army, according to independent estimates – disrupt the tenuous support from the military. Even a Nobel Peace Prize winner can only do so much.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.