Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The road ahead

Last week, in British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) program “Sajha Sawal”, the stalwarts of the Seven Part Alliance (SPA); Dr Ram Sharan Mahat, Jhala Nath Khanal, and Hishila Yami; were caught off guard. Sushil Sharma's simple question -- will you all retire from politics if you fail to conduct twice postponed Constituent Assembly (CA) election this time around, made them pause. It made them stop blowing their horns, even if it was for a few seconds, and forced them to reflect in their real ability to get things done.

Despite all assurances and promises to flock together this time around to fulfill people's desire to have a CA election, not a single politician that participated in the program had enough guts to say; yes, as a senior member of my party I will take the responsibility for repeated failure in not being able to meet people's desire, and thus, will retire.

Although repeated failure is an example of incompetence, none sounded like the ones who had flunked thrice in the same mission. Like his boss Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal was at his best in fence-sitting politics.

In a typical Madhav Nepal style, Khanal blamed Yami and Dr Mahat's party for the debacle and tried to project his party as the only viable alternative that can wipe-out all ills confronting Nepal. Yami appeared more aggressive than needed. Like a cornered animal, she spent most of her time hounding fellow participants, especially Dr Mahat, left and right. In a typical leftist style, with help of jargons such as progression, regression, inclusion, she tried her best to justify her party's run away from the CA election in November of 2007.

Yami repeatedly mentioned people as a wise lot, but did not refrain from trying to fool the very same people by justifying the CPN (Maoist)'s run away from the CA election scheduled for last November. Are we that stupid not to know why the Maoists ran away from CA election in November? Madam, give us a break.

Dr Mahat at times came down heavily on the Maoists' duplicity and dubious character but had nothing new to say. Later on during the program, he joined the chorus to assure the seriousness of the SPA in conducting the CA election this time around.

Last week's program clearly revealed two things: (1) the confidence of the ruling coalition in its ability to conduct CA election (2) honesty of the stalwarts of the ruling coalition. Like in the past, the ruling coalition wants to assure the people that they will pull it off. But there are very few buyers this time around. How can people be assured that the CA election will not be postponed this time around when the politicians that are supposed to conduct election are not themselves confident enough in their ability to it? What is even more troubling is their lack of honesty and sincerity towards the people, who deserve truthful assessment about the prospects of CA election, if nothing.

Is it practically feasible to conduct a free and fair election in less than three months in the current situation whereby the presence of the state is confined to the Kathmandu valley? Populist politics is at its best in Nepal. Strange but true, no politician wants to be the bearer of any unpleasant news. So, instead of banking on politicians' assurances, why don't we do our own analysis?

There are two major hurdles in the path of successful completion of CA election: (1) the ethnic dissent in the tarai (2) Insincerity of the Maoists. The security situation in the tarai is deteriorating at an unprecedented pace. Civil servants in various tarai districts are being extorted, abducted and killed. Many government officials in the tarai are devoid of civil servants. In a context whereby the polling officers to conduct the election in the tarai have publicly said that they would not abide by the government's instructions and have threatened to resign, how is the government going to conduct the election?

The spiraling security dilemma will become particularly intense and at some point, it is likely to move to outright conflict if the condition is not improved. Unless the tarai issue is addressed amicably and the participation of credible political forces such as the Madhesi People's Right Forum and Tarai-Madhes Lokantrik Party is ensured, there are very slim chances of conducting the election in the tarai.

Election is not an end in itself. Its results without the participation of the ethnic parties, at best, can be called as partial mandate. The issue of credibility will continue to haunt the SPA like it did King Gyanendra if the political participation of those outside the ruling alliance is not ensured. And, the reverence of the constitution will always remain in question if crafted without the participation of the certain segment of the society. It will not be able to survive as the supreme law of the land for long. Sooner or later, it will have to be scrapped or amended substantially.

Another major hurdle in the path of CA election is Maoists' insincerity. Despite signing forty plus agreements with the mainstream political parties, understandings in the paper have not turned into reality. Based on the Maoists' track record of adherence to the peace process, it cannot be ruled out that the Maoists will again abort the prospects of CA election.

The fear of defeat in the CA poll forced the Maoists to make U-turn from their earlier commitments and scuttle it. Since then, things have not changed much in the favor of the CPN (Maoist). The very minute the Maoists realize that they will not emerge as a major political force, they will scuttle the process. As a matter of fact, they may do that even before. There is a big probability that the Maoists will make integration of their combatants into the NA and walk out of the government once they pocket around 2.15 billion rupees as salary/arrears for their guerillas. They may put forward kicking King Gyanendra out of the palace as the new precondition for election, and leave the government. Based on the Maoists' track record, which is full of duplicity and dubiousness, these scenarios cannot be ignored altogether.

Furthermore, Prachanda's recent revelation about his admiration and reverence for Lenin raises more questions than it answers. Like his reverend leader Lenin, who grabbed the power after dispensing his opponents and dismissed the constituent assembly, Prachanda too might be toying with the idea of scuttling the CA poll and annihilating the political rivals within the SPA.

For radicals, things appear in black and white, grey areas do not exist. They can only visualize the birth of Lord Buddha or Junga Bahadur Rana. Non-violent Gandhi that freed millions of Indians crushed by the British Empire does not impress them. As Buddha is not the right person to tame the people that are posing a serious threat to the existence of his brainwashed cadres and militias, he might try to justify the need of Junga Bahadur Rana and prove his relevance.

The road to successful CA election is a thorny one. The ability of the mainstream political parties to force the Maoists adhere to the agreements and ensure the participation of the political parties outside the ruling alliance will determine whether or not the CA election will be held this time around. Failure to do so will plunge the nation into a political and constitutional crisis.

In order to save Nepal both from the dictatorship of the proletariat and the 'guardian coup', whereby the military steps in with the goal of restoring public order, reducing corruption, or fighting insurgents, civilian power must be wielded legitimately. For that to happen, the April CA election must take place, and they must produce credible results. Should this election be postponed/cancelled or the poll lacks credibility due to the lack of participation of parties outside the SPA coalition, then the transition risks derailing and no further possibility can be ruled out.

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