Monday, March 30, 2009

Re-thinking Maoist Democracy

The populist floodgates that have been thrown open has dangerously destabilized the country. In the name of equality, ethnic fundamentalism is on the rise. Law and order situation is in a shambles. Judiciary is being ridiculed and attacked. Can a nation with an acutely vulnerable judiciary, absence of law and order, and social capital (dangerously depleted by rising ethnic hatred) prosper and consolidate democracy?
Nepal represents a failing democracy in which the prospects for consolidation have narrowed down significantly mainly due to the politicians´ inability to manage peoples’ expectations and to look for solutions for domestic political problems from within the country.The ruling party has been inconsistently consistent about their lack of faith in multi-party democracy and the opposition parties do not have the required strength and vision to mainstream the Maoists. Democratic consolidation in Nepal now is a generational challenge, requiring a long-term process of locally embedded civil society development, party institutionalization, and the disarmament of insurgency groups.
Virtually nothing will be achieved at this point by blaming the Maoists for derailing the democratic process and looking for an external solution to the problem. Why would the Maoists strengthen a system in which they never had faith to begin with? The Maoists had it all figured out. They wanted to get rid of the old political structure and fill the vacuum, which they have succeeded in doing so. With their militia controlling rural areas, they knew very well that major political parties of yesteryears would not be able to stand their wrath for long. The Maoists’ calculation went awry when ethnic dissent sparked off. But they quickly figured out a way to deal with it. By accommodating Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) and Nepal Sadbhavana Party in the government, they have frozen the chances of large scale ethnic revolt that could potentially bring down their government. As far as small-scale ethnic dissent is concerned, they are ready to strike a deal even if such deals have the potential to hurt the nation in the future. Their past deals clearly show how well they have mastered the art of using “useful idiots.”
Their biggest hurdle for now is neutralizing the Nepali Army (NA) and overhauling the bureaucracy. They want to neutralize the army because it is the only institution in Nepal that can put a brake to the Maoists march towards establishment of one party rule. By neutralizing the army—the process has already begun with the formation of Army Integration Special Committee—they want to negate the possibility of a takeover by the army or an army-backed government. For the Maoists, overhauling the bureaucracy is equally important because the Maoists know it very well that the Nepali bureaucracy is not neutral. The Maoists will not hesitate to provide golden parachutes so that they can get rid of civil servants they don’t want. By doing so, the Maoists will not only substantially reduce the threat to their regime but also please donors and other external players that have been advocating for reforms in security sector and bureaucracy. Actually, it might be perceived as a step towards promoting good governance by the donors and the Maoist government might end up benefiting both diplomatically and financially.
The Maoists have never shied away from making known their desire to establish one-party rule in Nepal. The one-party rule they want to establish does not have to be like North Korea´s. They can live with the West Bengal-type model, where they can run the show without much of a threat from other political players. Probably, that is the easiest and safest route for the Maoists. All they have to do is continue what they have been doing so far—flush out the political cadres of major political parties from rural areas. That way they can guarantee the outcome of future elections and appear democratic to the external world at the same time. This formula was successfully experimented in Constituent Assembly elections and it worked out pretty well in favor of the Maoists. They might want to take this experiment to the urban areas now. But how difficult would that be when you have the covert support of security forces, and the bureaucracy is willing to do the needful?
While the Maoists are working hard to find a way within the country to consolidate their rule, the opposition parties appear clueless regarding how to preserve their political space. The leaders of the opposition parties once again want our southern neighbor to devise a survival formula for them.What the politicians of opposition parties fail to understand is, even if they come to the power and rule the country, which is only possible through NA´s backing, they will not be able to run the show for very long. They want to rule the country that no longer exists. Today’s Nepal is drastically different from the past. Nepal, as a nation, has gone too far left. First of all, even if India supports the opposition’s quest for power, removing the Maoists from power will not be as easy as removing Gyanendra Shah. The support that Pushpa Kamal Dahal has and the scale of violence that he can unleash is no match to the support and options that the former king had. So even if opposition parties bounce back with tacit support from India and the backing of NA, which in my view is completely unacceptable and undemocratic, they will not be able to rule for long. Dahal has way more support than what Gyanendra enjoyed during his rule. And, think about the cross-mobility of communists from the CPN-UML to the Maoist party. The recent college elections have clearly shown that the younger generation in Nepal is increasingly leaning towards the left. There is nothing to be cheerful about the poor showing of the Maoists in recent student union elections. Third place is good enough. It will not take very long for student leaders from the UML-affiliated student wing to migrate to the Maoist wing. They share the same ideology.
The options that the opposition parties in Nepal have at this point are very limited. For now, they should forget about scratching the backs of foreign leaders to garner support to bounce back to power. Such move is neither democratic, nor will it help them remain in power for long. The only way to keep the Maoists deviating away from democratic path is by keeping them engaged. It will take time, which Girija Prasad Koirala and other aged leaders unfortunately do not have on their side given their age and desire to establish their siblings in politics. We had an option to taste the success that Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka is enjoying now, but we decided not to take that route and it is now too late to even think about it. Now, it is an ideological battle between the hardcore leftists and true democrats, if any. NA should not be dragged into this fight.
Let the people of Nepal themselves realize the difference between living in a liberal society and under hardcore leftists´ rule. A revolution that will occur then after will be the real revolution for democracy. It will be a long slog but would be worthier than the shortcut our southern neighbor devises for us. Not very long ago they devised a formula to establish democracy in Nepal and we all know how well it worked out. We are the ones who are now paying for their five-decade-long expertise in democratic consolidation. Do we really need another set of formulas from them again?

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