The mavens of doom among journalists and the cocktail-party set are having a field day with the Maoists’ withdrawal from the Nepal government, forecasting imminent collapse and anarchy. They have had plenty of time to draw up and refine their doomsday analyses, because the Maoist move has been predictable for weeks.
The Maoist hardline faction has never trusted their political leaders’ move to halt armed conflict and participate in elections. As the date grows near, polling makes it clear that the Maoists won’t win, or even take a major share of votes. The election would therefore not be “meaningful,” in Maoist-speak. Pressure from the hardliners almost forced this move last month at the party conference. Instead, the party announced a set of fresh demands, most of them unacceptable to the other parties, as grounds on which to hang their eventual pullout.
On the face of it, the pullout means little. The four Maoist ministers will be replaced by the remaining coalition partners. The Maoists remain in parliament but without enough votes to change policy or bring down the government. The same thing happens in any parliamentary democracy.
Out of government, the Maoists can act as the opposition, and they have announced a series of protests. The package – blocking election commission offices, mass meetings, a strike on candidate registration day – is hardly revolutionary. It looks like politics as usual, not an attempt to drive the country into chaos or stop the elections. But by threatening that, the Maoists put a lot of pressure on the other parties.
They hope to get two key concessions to make the elections more “meaningful”: declaration of a republic before the polls and full-proportional ballot. That would give the Maoists a major political victory, reduce pressure from the hardline camp within the party, and boost their election results substantially.
Those concessions are possible. A majority of members of each of the coalition parties support abolition of the monarchy, and an overall parliamentary majority supports proportional polls. The abrupt change of rules so close to the elections would be embarrassing, as would be the appearance of having caved in to the Maoists, but to keep polls on track and save their own skins, the politicians will probably swallow their pride.
That would be enough. The top Maoist leaders don’t want to abandon politics and the poll. It would be a huge humiliation within the party to concede that the moderate approach had failed, and it would be a massive betrayal of what trust the Maoists have among ordinary Nepalis. The hardliners may not care, but the leaders are pragmatic enough to know that would be a disaster.
If the parties don’t concede enough to get the Maoists to participate in the elections, the cadres and the YCL can disrupt the polls enough to cast doubts on the legitimacy of the results. That could be a useful card for them to play next year. But the view through this crystal ball shows the elections happening one way or another: Aborting them and returning to armed struggle would cost the Maoist leaders too much.
John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.