Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Will CA polls be 'free and fair'?

Election fever has finally hit the nation. After two years of political confusion and chaos, the chances of Constituent Assembly (CA) elections taking place appear brighter than ever. However, the major concern now is: What will happen if elections go one way or the other?

Will the Maoist radicals that believe only violence can effect political change for the people, and for whom, death of innocent civilians, children, or a land owner who owns too large a plot of paddy is simply the cost of war accept the defeat if they fail to emerge as a major political party in CA elections? Will the royalists that seem to be excited by the recent opinion poll that shows a surge in king's popularity accept the verdict of CA polls wholeheartedly if people reject monarchy? What would the mainstream political parties' like the Nepali Congress and the United Marxist Leninist (UML) do if they fail to put up a decent fight in the CA polls?

Has anybody in the mainstream political parties or the donor community thought about these scenarios and their possible fallout seriously? The game does no get over with the CA elections. Rather, the real power game will begin after the elections are over. There is a big possibility of a post-election violence like the one that happened in Kenya recently. As the real battle for the political survival will begin after the CA elections, donor community should work with the moderate political forces and the Army and come up with a post-election strategy.

For Puspa Kamal Dahal, his life-long presidential ambition is at stake, whereas for King Gyanendra, more than two century-old royal legacy is almost over. Will these pompous egoistic individuals accept people's verdict like rational human beings? There is very little room to believe that. So, it is important that we, as a nation, remain prepared for the worst.

On the brighter side, upcoming CA elections have provided a perfect opportunity for the democratic forces in Nepal to emerge as a winner. All they got to do at this point in time is to ensure that elections are not rigged by the groups that want to falsely project themselves as a major political force. Free and fair CA elections have the potential to re-legitimize the mainstream parties through a process of universal suffrage. Rigged elections will further legitimize a decade of violence.

The Maoist party is clinically dead in the tarai. It will, thus, do anything for a clean sweep in the hills. Politically, it is a do-or-die situation for them. The best way of testing the Maoist commitment towards the free and fair elections is through the deployment of the Nepali Army during the CA elections.

As the demands of every dissenting group in the tarai have been fulfilled, except for the secessionists, deployment of the NA to ensure free and fair elections should not be a problem. If there is an opposition, be sure that the opposing group definitely has something else in mind. It would be a blunder to cage a professional army that has successfully conducted elections in war-ridden countries when we need its help to identify the legitimate political forces that the people of Nepal trust to take the nation forward in the right direction.

In a situation whereby the Young Communists League (YCL) is openly intimidating leaders and campaigners of other political parties in the hills and secessionists are creating havoc in the tarai, the only way to enhance the popular participation in the upcoming elections is by making them feel safe at polling stations. And, Nepal Police under Krishna Situala's leadership is neither professionally capable, nor psychologically strong to do so.

Let us all be practical for the greater good of the nation, shall we? At this juncture, we have got two choices: (1) let the polls to be rigged out of fear that lack of political space will force the Maoists to return to the jungles (2) conduct free and fair elections and send a strong message: guns can't buy votes, ultimately you got to win the hearts and minds of people.

Radicals survive their confrontation with reality by withdrawing from society into their "sect." Irrespective of its ideological substance, radicalism as a frame of mind, exists at all times. Our success lies in conducting free and fair elections so that the people that are easily lured and indoctrinated by the radicals like Puspa Kamal Dahal, Nagendra Paswan, and Jay Krishna Goit get a message that, by raising arms against the state you can get only so far.

In a country like ours that has been a victim of bloody insurgency and ethnic divide, elections can be seminal events that, if free and fair, not only confer legitimacy on governments but also can profoundly influence political and social institutions, power arrangements, and citizens' expectations. Confining NA to the barracks at this juncture when the cadres of the Maoists and the secessionists are intimidating and annihilating political opponents will be a blunder of Himalayan proportion.

Do not make upcoming CA elections a fading shadow of democracy, by letting it to get rigged, when we are actually capable of conducting free and fair elections. Rigged elections will further squeeze the juice out of major political parties that are already dehydrated.

Like the Maoist violent means taught those groups out there that are now raising arms against the state that, raising arms against the state is not a heinous crime but a profitable political bargain, rigged elections will teach them another set of lessons: first, bring down the mainstream political parties to their knees at a gun point and then replace them through rigged elections. How good of a lesson would that be?

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