Thursday, October 25, 2007

Nation: A Hostage To Indecision

By Yuba Nath Lamsal,

Nepal has become a hostage to indecision. The political parties, in general, and the three major parties, namely, the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the CPN-Maoist, in particular, are busy calculating their partisan gains and losses instead of seeking an amicable solution to the present political crisis. This has created a situation of political deadlock and serious political and constitutional crisis in Nepal. The recent developments have shown that our political forces have not been able to rise above their partisan interests. Otherwise, the present political crisis would not have cropped up in the first place.

Demands

The new crisis began after the Constituent Assembly election, which had been scheduled for November 22, was postponed. The election was postponed because the Maoists put forward their 18-point demand and threatened to disrupt the polls if their main demands were not met. As the election without the participation of the Maoists would be meaningless, the Election Commission, upon the request of the government, has postponed election indefinitely.

Following the poll postponement, the political parties have been engaged in the blame game. The Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML have accused the Maoists of scuttling the election process. But the Maoists have their own logic. According to them, the Constituent Assembly election is the process of creating a new Nepal in which there would be total restructuring of the state leading to the establishment of a federal democratic republic. This, according to them, is the mandate of Jana Andolan II and wishes of the people.

The establishment of a federal democratic republic would abolish the monarchy. Moreover, all the major political parties, in principle, have agreed to go for a republican set up. The Maoists are of the view that since all the political parties have adopted the republican line, there should not be any delay in declaring Nepal a republic. Their argument is that the monarchy would not allow the election to take place because the monarchy is going to be abolished if the Constituent Assembly election was held. The Maoists claim that as long as the monarchy remains, the Constituent Assembly election cannot be held. Thus, the Maoists have demanded that the monarchy be abolished to ensure free, fair and peaceful elections and a smooth transition.

However, the other political parties oppose the Maoist demand. According to the NC and UML, since it was agreed that the fate of the monarchy would be decided by the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly, they should abide by the earlier agreement. The NC and UML are of the view that there should be a due and democratic process for the abolition of the institution that has been in Nepal for more than 238 years.

Both the arguments seem plausible. But one thing is clear that the monarchy would definitely be a hurdle to a smooth democratic transition. History is witness that the monarchy has been the stumbling block in the democratic development of Nepal. Even in 1951, when the monarchy was restored through a popular movement, it was the king that betrayed the people and political parties.

A tripartite agreement signed among King Tribhuvan, the Nepali Congress and the Ranas in New Delhi then had agreed to hold the Constituent Assembly election. The then king Tribhuvan, right after he retuned to Kathmandu from his self-declared exile, had publicly announced that there would be a constitution written by the elected representatives of the people.

Once King Tribhuvan regained his lost power, he immediately started ignoring the political parties and people and scuttled the process of the Constituent Assembly election. He instead started hobnobbing with the Ranas, feudals and landlords to strengthen his own position. The king deliberately prolonged the transition period and scuttled the new political process.

The emergence of King Mahendra proved even worse for Nepal's political and democratic development. Instead of holding the Constituent Assembly election, King Mahendra conducted the parliamentary election under the constitution given by the king. The king's motive was to marginalise the Nepali Congress and bring the royalists to power through the sponsored election. However, the king's plans failed as the Nepali Congress won a landslide victory. After the election, the Nepali Congress formed the first elected government with BP Koirala as the Prime Minister.

Right after the election and formation of the elected government of the Nepali Congress, King Mahendra started hatching a conspiracy against the elected government and democratic process in Nepal. The king with the support of the army engineered a bloodless coup though which he overthrew the democratically elected government and took over power. This move introduced a dark era in Nepal's political development as the democratic polity that was established through the sacrifices of the people was once again pushed back.

This is how the democratic process was scuttled. But the enthusiasm and hunger for democracy did not die down in Nepal. As a result of a joint movement, multi-party democracy was restored in 1990. But the political parties, mainly the Nepali Congress and the United Left Front (ULF), ignored the people's demand for framing the constitution by the elected representatives of the people. Instead, the constitution was written by some handpicked people of the Nepali Congress, ULF and the king.

Although, the constitution was relatively better, it failed to adopt the legitimate process. Even after the 1990 political change, the monarchy has often tried to create a hurdle in the process of democratic consolidation. The rise of King Gyanendra following the death of King Birendra proved a disaster for Nepali politics. Soon after he ascended the throne, he started meddling in politics and ultimately followed the path of his father by taking over absolute power. All these developments have proved that the monarchy has been against democracy in Nepal.

Analysing Nepal's political developments against this background, the Maoist demands appear to be definitely genuine. Jana Andolan II has clipped the wings of the king. Thus, the monarchy is definitely down but not completely out. It is hard to believe that the monarchy will remain idle and let the Constituent Assembly election be held smoothly. The royalists would definitely make their last-ditch effort to sabotage the Constituent Assembly election so that the monarchy would continue to hold sway.

Partisan interest

The royalists are working in a planned and clandestine manner. But the political parties are showing weakness due to constant bickering. They have failed to assess the situation and gravity of the problem. With the frequent postponement of the election, a big question of legitimacy and credibility has arisen both at home and in the international arena. This is the time that all political parties and leaders must rise above their partisan interest and make sacrifices for the larger interest of the nation. The present political deadlock must be ended through a reasonable and liberal approach, for which leaders must demonstrate a sense of great magnanimity. (editorial 7-10-25 Rising Nepal)

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