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Nepal Monitor: The National Online Journal

Special Edit: A Year of Decision in Nepal Ahead

The year 2006 was a year of action, both dramatic and traumatic. So much has happend. The revolutionary Maoists are back in the parliament. It looks like 2007 will be a year of decision.

The Maoists are part of the parliamentary democracy again. The former rebels have established themselves as the second largest party in the parliament. They constitute 25 percent (count 83) of the 330-member Interim Legislature-Parliament. On Monday, they took an oath of office in Kathmandu. It is a full circle. Some of their cadres used to be MPs in the early 1990s before they decided to go into the jungles and start their “People’s War” in 1996. But it's a circle with a lot of rough, blunt, sharp and pointed edges.

Now they may be seen increasingly as peace-loving do-gooders. The ruthless Maoists, known widely as “Maobadi” in Nepal, abandoned their jungle hideouts last year after a peace deal with an alliance of seven parties. The popular uprising of April 2006 led the way to a politics of compromise resulting in the promulgation on Monday of a new Interim Constitution of Nepal 2063.

This is a welcome relief to the 27-plus million Nepalis forced to live for more than a decade under constant fear and at times persecution in the hands of the Maoists as well as government forces. More than 13,000 were killed, upto 200,000 displaced and scores of thousands disappeared.

The parliamentary process— comprising mainly the 8 major political actors—is now in place. That is a good progress, although not perfect. There are a lot of roadblocks ahead.

Already, critics and some smaller parties, such as the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) have voiced concerns regarding the promulgation of the interim constitution. Some among these have heeded PM Girija Prasad Koirala’s request to withdraw demands for the amendment of the interim constitution prior to its promulgation.

There are real concerns that the interim constitution solidifies the eight party monopoly and it gives too much power to the PM (who also acts as the head of state by default). Critics also have noted that the IC lacks the provision on how to punish (if at all) the suppressors of the April 2006 mass movement, and that it overlooks the rights of minorities such as women, children, Muslims, Jajajatis and other marginalized groups.

The document does not stipulate legislative control over the executive. The PM, without parliamentary approval, can appoint the chief justice of the Supreme Court. That is troubling because these are real legislative concerns that seem to be turning the PM into another absolute king. And we must not forget that it was in Nepal that the Rana PMs acted as de facto absolute kings for more than 104 years.

Despite some of such drawbacks, the interim constitution provides the momentum to the peace process and it paves the way to form an interim government (comprising Maoists) and to conduct constituent assembly elections slated for June 2007. Constitutional amendments are enduring processes of any democratic polity. As long as there is general consensus, that can be done later. For now, we need to put forth more energy and ideas toward the election process, to write a more authentic and final constitution of the Nepali nation.

Until then, the country must focus on the task of ensuring peace and free and fair elections. There are some real concerns. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has backed the 12-month Nepal monitoring program proposed by the newly-appointed UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon. However, the UN’s is not a peace-keeping mission in Nepal. Its mandate is limited to managing arms and monitoring the peace process and the Constituent Assembly elections. Locking up arms is a good idea and the work has begun, but that alone will not eliminate or disband the Maoist militia that could be active any time.

In the last 10 years, the Maoists have, at length, taught disgruntled groups how to resort to violence. This will have long-term effects in our political culture. Hence, expecting the unexpected should not be out of the ordinary especially during these fluid and transitional times. As the UN chief Moon warned, the debate over the country’s political future could swiftly exacerbate ethnic, regional, linguistic tensions: “The greatest challenge in the months ahead may be to ensure that Nepal’s remarkable diversity becomes an abiding strength rather than a source of division.”

The communal clash last month in Nepalgunj provides an example. Regional uprising is already shimmering. On Friday, the renegade Maoist faction, the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM), paralysed four key districts in eastern Nepal in a badh it called to protest official discrimination against Madhesis.

There are many uncertainties. What are the modalities for the constituent assembly election? What is going to be the fate of monarchy? If monarchy is voted down, will there be a smooth transition to a republic from the present undefined political order? How will and in what form and manner will the monarchy continue if it survives the CA votes? Will the country peacefully embrace the CA verdict?

King Gyandendra must reconcile with the emerging situation, whether he survives or becomes a part of a royal history. After all, except for princely privileges that he was accustomed to all his life, he will lose nothing much about being a King. The monarchical role was thrust upon him following the 2001 palace massacre.

And, in a democracy, reconciliation applies to Maoists as well. They seem to be realizing that and have befriended their former foes. But we must not forget that revolutionaries in the past have rarely accepted popular verdicts. The classic case is Russia, where the Bolshevik revolutionaries dismissed a freely elected constituent assembly and seized full state powers.

History will judge our political actors’ motivations and tactics. For now, we can only, though nervously, anticipate the emergence of a politics of consensus in the days ahead. The year 2006 was a year of action, both dramatic and traumatic. It looks like 2007 will be a year of decision. Nepalis alone can and must ensure to make the decision "right" and "wise."

Posted by Editor on January 15, 2007 7:56 PM