Thursday, April 5, 2007

Lessons Learned, Challenges Ahead

With the formation of the interim government along with the CPN (Maoist), a new era has just begun. It has spiked up people's aspirations for peace, stability and democracy once again.

However, from the current location of Nepali politics, there are two roads ahead with two different end points. The first one leads us to a stable, prosperous, and thriving democracy, whereas the second one leads us to chaotic, lawless and illiberal democracy. Where we will end up depends upon how sincerely the political parties in power act in the coming days. Furthermore, it also depends upon whether or not the new faces inducted in the interim cabinet are honest, competent and visionary.

The future of the major political parties and many politicians are at stake. As the country's political landscape has tremendously changed, none can tell for sure if these men and women sworn in as ministers will be running the ministries ever again in their lifetimes. Thus, it is the time for these men and women to prove their worth and win the hearts of the people who hold the keys to their political future. If they fail do so, the people will seal their fate. People's votes in the changed political context may not be as easily available as they have been in the past.

The mainstream political parties that participated in the previous general elections and their cadres should stop themselves from looking back at how many seats they were able to pick in the previous general elections. This will only inflate their ego only to be deflated.

The political landscape is no longer what it used to be. Now, there are several players on the ground. Which party would better address the people's concerns is the gigantic shift in the people's perception.

Nepal's journey to successful, inclusive democracy is still thorny. The politics is not yet devoid of the threat from the regressive forces which still love to fish in the troubled waters. The monarch, who is politically very calculative, but dumb as a door knob when it comes to assessing people's love for freedom is, down but not out.

The king might not have given up his despotic aspirations. On the one hand, the newly formed Eight Party Alliance (EPA) government needs to checkmate the shrewd king, who might try to fulfill his autocratic aspirations as he did in the past. On the other hand, the EPA government needs to restore peace, maintain stability, and ensure the economic prosperity of the masses that have a hard time making ends meet. So, the challenges that lie ahead for the EPA government are of Himalayan proportions and political rhetoric will be of no use while solving the real life problems.

The current government should strive towards achieving the goals stipulated in the Common Minimum Program (CMP). Any failure to do so would be disastrous. It will further deepen the crisis to the extent that it will be extremely hard to deal with. The road, thereafter, will only lead to anarchy and none will have the legitimacy to control it.

For a few, who have already warmed ministerial chairs, but failed to deliver results in the past, it is time to reinvent themselves. For the newcomers, it is time to quickly learn the tricks of the game that suit the changed political climate and meet the people's expectations. The Nepali citizens, who had the power to bring down King Gyanendra's despotic regime, which had the backing of 90 thousand strong army men and thousands of Armed Police Force and Nepal Police personnel in uniform, may not stay silent for long, fearing the covertly stored weapons to administer political control, if the promised fruit of Jan Andolan II is not delivered.

As the political landscape of the country has been tremendously altered, no one at this point in time can foretell which political parties will be accepted or rejected by the voters in the upcoming elections. The mainstream political parties --- the Nepali Congress (NC) and the United Marxist Leninist (UML) which were succeeded in garnering the support of ethnic minorities --- may not enjoy the same support this time around.

There exists both crisis and opportunity. The big political parties, which prefer an individual, Krishna Prasad Sitaula, to the ethnic groups and undermine their demand for the resignation of the Home Minister, even when he fails, may run out of the required political fuel to bring back those who are currently warming the benches of the parliament to the parliament again. So, this may put a full stop on those who are now representing the major political parties.

NC may be the one that will be hit hard. Its traditional vote bank in terai has been thoroughly stirred. The Madhesis, who once predominantly associated with NC, are now attracted towards the Madhesi People's Right Forum (MPRF) and other political outfits. The future of NC seems to be in peril if the current insensitivity towards minorities' legitimate rights and genuine demands is not corrected by the NC leaders.

When it comes to UML, first it was the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), and now the ethnic forums that have started attracting its cadres. Instead of pushing for the Sitaula's ouster, which would have consoled its Madhesi cadres, UML silently joined its competitor, the CPN (Maoist) in its covert operation to keep Sitaula in the home minister's chair. That was a tactical blunder. Instead of acting smartly in order to keep its dwindling support base among ethnic groups intact, UML's silence on the issue of Sitaula's resignation and subsequent induction in the interim cabinet as a home minister again have further alienated the UML's Madhesi cadres prompting them to join ethnic groups and radical Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morchas (JTMM).

The two biggest political parties that garnered the most votes in the past elections appear to be the losers. However, at this point in time, it is hard to tell how big of a loss they will end up incurring. What the established political parties should quickly learn is that the mere showcasing of a few leaders from ethnic minority to prove that NC and UML are pro-ethnic parties may not work in the changed political context. The only way to win hearts and minds of ethnic minorities and keep them associated with NC and UML is to refrain from actions that disappoint the ethnic groups and meet their genuine demands. If a party can save itself from the future trouble by just not putting a politician in a particular ministerial chair, it should do so. It is politically a smart thing to do and will save the political career of many seating parliamentarians from the terai regions who got elected on NC and UML's tickets.

The parties that have chances of fairing well in the changed political landscape are the CPN (Maoist) and other smaller political parties. However, in order to take advantage of the changed political context, the Maoists have to first prove that they believe in peace, stability, and democracy. They have to ensure that they are not a threat to people's lives and liberty. For the Maoists, the road from mines to ministries might have been comparatively a quicker one, but where will the Maoists end up in the future largely depends upon how they project themselves now onwards.

In other words, the future of political parties will largely depend upon their actions and how they will position themselves on the issues detrimental to the peace and prosperity of the nation. For the big political parties, the challenge is to reinvent themselves, whereas for the CPN (Maoist), it is time it reformed.

As far as the parties of the former royalists such as Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and Rastriya Jansakti Party (RJP) are concerned, their preference to enjoy King Gyanendra's despotic adventurism as bystanders have seriously eroded their credibility as a democratic party. Instead of grouching too much, the lesson they need to learn is that people look for actions that favor democracy, not lip service. They too will have space in “New Nepal”, if the notion ever materializes, but they will have to earn it.

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