Everyone is contemplating the factors that carried Nepal's Maoists to an impressive victory in the country's CA elections. The scale of the Maoists’ victory in the CA elections has surprised Western observers and the Maoists alike. Had the Maoists sensed their landslide victory in advance, their quest to form an electoral alliance with the UML would have ended long before the election date. And had the West (or India) anticipated a red curtain falling over Nepal, they may have thought twice before pushing elections at all costs, despite the overwhelming state of lawlessness immediately before elections.
History in this sense hasn't just been made within Nepal; rather, the Maoists' ascendancy to power has set a precedent for the entire South Asian region and the world to "marvel" at. No matter how the Maoist victory is ultimately spun, the cold, hard and uneasy facts stare us squarely in our faces - one permutation of the idea that "power comes from the barrel of a gun" is alive and well and Nepal's Maoists are living proof of this concept.
Having witnessed the Maoists' rise to power, the Nepali people are now in the process of figuring out what a Maoist-majority government means for Nepal's democratic future. Unraveling this mystery requires working-knowledge of the factors that benefited the Maoists as well as elements that amplified the incumbent parties' humiliating defeat.
The debate over whether people who voted for the Maoists actually subscribe to Maoist fundamentalism will continue to play out over the months ahead. However, the symbolic emphasis that voters' placed on the need for radical change requires no further deliberation. The Maoist party swept CA elections primarily because it conducted an excellent electoral campaign but equally because the campaigns of their political adversaries were so hollow. The Maoists had fresh candidates, clear messages and an unwavering strategic objective upon which to pontificate. To the contrary, never mind a winning strategy, the major parties of the yesteryears had neither clean candidates to forward, nor distinctive messages to convey.
To the ordinary observer, the similarities between the candidate list forwarded by Gyanendra less than 26 months earlier, which included the likes of Kamal Thapa and those forwarded by the Nepali Congress (NC) that included the likes of Khum Bahadur Khadka for the CA elections, are hard to miss. Surely, dynamic reactions that reflect public sentiment (instead of a fixated reliance on status quo candidates) would have positioned the NC and UML for less humiliating defeats?
The NC and the UML also appear to have failed miserably at anticipating the Nepali public's intelligence. These parties' attempt at defeating the Maoists by re-packaging agendas for which the Maoists fought a decade-long civil war - establishing a federal democratic republic, building an inclusive society, administering equality and justice, etc. - grossly underestimated the Nepali public's prowess. After all, like informed consumers anywhere in the world, voters in Nepal decided to "purchase" the republican agenda from its original architects - the Maoists.
Once again, the credit goes to the Maoists for their superb "republican bait" – a bait that the NC and UML consumed, hook, line and sinker! By framing the debate exclusively in terms of the republican agenda, the Maoists tactfully engineered a situation where NC and UML candidates unknowingly campaigned on the Maoists' behalf.
The Maoist leaders' continued campaigning while the YCL effectively denied competitors access to large sections of Nepal that have not had any State presence for over a decade. Persistent aggression in the pre-poll environment should have given advocates of liberal democracy reason for logical pause. But the risk of being branded "anti-election reactionaries" undoubtedly subdued (otherwise logical caution) from the liberal democratic camp.
The populist fervor architected by Nepal's Maoists forced Nepal's liberal democrats to continually walk a tightrope between conviction and credibility. Which of these competing agendas was ultimately served, will become uneasily clear in the near future. Already, the process of rationalizing the CA results in terms that praise the democratic process but pin hopes for a functional democracy on a known utilitarian strategy, has begun in earnest. Whether one agrees or not with the Maoists' tactics, the brilliance in the political maneuvering is hard to ignore.
Like the NC that failed to realize the importance of fielding clean candidates and distinctive messages, the UML never got beyond the politics of "fence-sitting". Madhav Nepal held repeated parlays with his Indian and American interlocutors, frequently educated Puspa Kamal Dahal on the meaning of CA elections and invested much in efforts aimed at portraying the UML as responsible for "mainstreaming the Maoists."
Somewhere in this fray however, Madhav Nepal forgot how close Marxism, Leninism and Maoism truly are. The challenge in distinguishing the UML from the Maoists along ideological lines was an enormously important task that Madhav Nepal simply neglected to act on. The UML's strongman busied himself maintaining political correctness and in the process, buried the UML's identity.
It is now clear beyond any credible doubt, that the UML's claim to having mainstreamed the Maoists was in fact, inverted - it is the Maoists who have defined the mainstream to which the NC and UML have migrated, not the other way around. Also, since the current polity is a mainstream that the Maoists have defined, there is little by way of logic to suggest that the constitution that is a product of this polity, will be anything but a Maoist interpretation of democracy.
The CA elections have transformed Nepal's political landscape whereby moderates are now replaced by radical ideologues. While the Maoist leaders have said that they will be “pragmatic,” it would be naive to imagine that this group will abandon its basic ideology.
The Maoists are demonstrably inconsistent when it comes to what they say versus what they actually do. Not even seventy two hours had passed from the time Puspa Kamal Dahal delivered his victory speech (in which he reaffirmed his commitment to multiparty democracy and continued coordination amongst other political parties) and the current Finance Minister Ram Saran Mahat had already been attacked by Maoist cadres, in Nuwakot. The message such actions send to the NC's rank and file is clear - the Maoists do not like losing and they're willing to get violent to prove their point.
Both Hitler and Mussolini took power in more or less a democratic fashion and what they did with democracy is forever engraved in the annals of tragic history. Although the German and Italian examples are not one hundred percent analogous to Nepal, the larger point to take away is that extreme caution is necessary to prevent any group that is borne of radical ideology, from running away with their radical, undemocratic ideas.