Fu­ture Un­known

What fac­tors are keep­ing Nepal from hold­ing free and fair elec­tions?

Southasia - - Contents - By Rameez Ahmed

The stand­off be­tween the var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal blocks in Nepal is in­ten­si­fy­ing. There seems to be no end in sight to the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil in a coun­try that is still grap­pling with the ef­fects of a decade-long civil war. Talks for the for­ma­tion of an elec­toral government have stalled once again as the rul­ing Maoists de­mand that the Tran­si­tional Jus­tice Mech­a­nism bill be in­cluded in the elec­toral deal. The op­po­si­tion, how­ever, is ac­cus­ing the Maoists of at­tempt­ing to pro­vide blan­ket amnesty to the guerilla fight­ers of its Peo­ples’ Lib­er­a­tion Army who com­mit­ted in­nu­mer­able war crimes. More than 16,000 lives were lost in the ‘Peo­ple’s War,’ fought be­tween the monar­chy and the Royal Nepal Army, which stretched for over ten years be­tween 1996 and 2006.

A Com­pre­hen­sive Peace Ac­cord was signed be­tween the Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal (Maoists) and the Seven Party Al­liance in 2006, which for­mally ended the war. A few months later, King Gya­nen­dra ca­pit­u­lated un­der the pres­sure and the Repub­lic of Nepal was born. With the tran­si­tion from a monar­chy to a Repub­lic un­der­way, re­plac­ing the in­terim con­sti­tu­tion be­came the need of the hour. Un­for­tu­nately, six years down the road, Nepal re­mains with­out a con­sti­tu­tion.

The coun­try’s in­sti­tu­tions are not devel­oped enough to cope with the var­i­ous so­phis­ti­cated de­mands of the state. This is mostly be­cause of the 240-year long monar­chi­cal rule which de­lim­ited the role of var­i­ous eth­nic, re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal groups in main­stream Nepali pol­i­tics.

A weak coali­tion government of Uni­fied Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal – Maoists (UCPN-M) and the op­po­si­tion are find­ing it hard to de­velop a con­sen­sus on the care­taker setup to over­see elec­tions de­spite the fact that the Maoists seem ready to give up their pol­icy of vi­o­lence.

“Rev­o­lu­tion in the 21st cen­tury can nei­ther em­u­late the Soviet model nor the Chi­nese one. We must find our own way as we move ahead,” said Chair­man CPN-M Pushpa Ka­mal Da­hal Prachanda at the party’s re­cent con­ven­tion. In an ef­fort to gain in­ter­na­tional le­git­i­macy and give a new di­rec­tion to pol­i­tics at home, the gov­ern­ing Maoist party fast-tracked re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and in­te­gra­tion of its armed wing. Fol­low­ing this, the party was taken off the list of ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions by the United States. The con­cept of ‘rev­o­lu­tion­ary’ land re­form has been re­placed by a ‘sci­en­tific’ sys­tem, and the party aban­doned the ear­lier pol­icy of con­fis­cating pri­vate prop­erty and dis­tribut­ing it to the land­less. The lead­er­ship has re­al­ized that it will need to work to­gether to re­store the econ­omy and em­brace pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics in or­der to move ahead.

How­ever, ac­cord­ing to CK Lal, a Kath­mandu-based po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor, the Maoists are “un­fit to gov­ern and un­fit to stay in the op­po­si­tion. But if elec­tions were held to­day, they would win hands down. And not just that - they would sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove their tally.”

Prime Min­is­ter Babu­ram Bhattarai of UCPN-M has agreed to step down in fa­vor of Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice Khil Raj Regmi to lead an In­terim Elec­tion Coun­cil to hold polls in June. Skep­tics say it might not be pru­dent to do so, as it would blur the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­ciary and ad­versely af­fect the up­com­ing elec­tions. Un­for­tu­nately, with the elec­tion dead­line loom­ing ahead that seems to be the only vi­able op­tion on the ta­ble.

The prob­lem can be avoided by bar­ring CJ Regmi from mak­ing any de­ci­sions re­lated to the ju­di­ciary dur­ing the time that he heads the care­taker government, which would de­mar­cate

the bound­aries of each role and dis­si­pate fears. The idea was pro­vided by the sit­ting CJ him­self.

Crit­ics say this pro­posal by the UCPN-M would help re­move the last re­main­ing hur­dle in the party’s quest for ab­so­lute power. “Af­ter dis­solv­ing the as­sem­bly, buy­ing into me­dia, coopt­ing the po­lice, ap­peas­ing the army and in­fil­trat­ing the bu­reau­cracy, only the Supreme Court was stand­ing in the way,” states a Nepalese daily.

The elec­tions are cru­cial for Nepal’s stalled progress as they would lead to de­vel­op­ing the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion.

The rea­son why suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments since 2008 have not been able to come to con­sen­sus about writ­ing the new con­sti­tu­tion is that the in­terim con­sti­tu­tion is silent on what amounts to con­sen­sus. The lack of clear author­ity and ju­ris­dic­tion has been used by the op­po­si­tion to bash the Maoist-led coali­tion which has been blamed for the dis­so­lu­tion of the Con­stituent As- sem­bly, even when it was all the po­lit­i­cal par­ties which were in per­pet­ual dis­agree­ment.

If a fu­ture elec­toral government is to en­sure timely elec­tions, it has to be given a clear man­date and del­e­gated the req­ui­site author­ity to do what needs to be done to hold free, fair, and timely polls. For that to hap­pen, the par­ties must agree not to hold the elec­tions hostage to their in­ces­sant bick­er­ing.

Chances are that dis­agree­ments over forms of gov­er­nance, state re­struc­tur­ing, and the con­tents of the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and Dis­ap­pear­ance Com­mis­sions will erupt again in the new Con­stituent As­sem­bly and again stall the new ini­tia­tive. But peo­ple want the par­ties to re­solve is­sues in the cham­bers and not play pol­i­tics with them on the streets.

Some pow­ers have agreed to ap­point the CJ as the head of the elec­toral government, but the de­ci­sion has not been owned by many oth­ers, with the fringe par­ties ( eth­nic, re­li­gious mi­nori­ties) are an­gered by their ex­clu­sion. The CJ re­fuses to be­come a rub­ber stamp for the all-party mech­a­nism which seeks to run the coun­try de facto. Then there are prac­ti­cal and lo­gis­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties in hold­ing elec­tions by May or June.

At the end of the day, Nepal can only go for­ward if the en­tire lead­er­ship is ready to make a com­pro­mise which re­quires give and take by find­ing a mid-way so­lu­tion. Since the op­po­si­tion and government have failed to come up with a third so­lu­tion, the only op­tion is to al­low Chief Jus­tice Regmi to be­come the act­ing prime min­is­ter for the elec­tions and al­low state in­sti­tu­tions to hold free and fair elec­tions. That’s the only way to a new, sec­u­lar Nepal. Rameez Ahmed is cur­rently work­ing as a news­caster at CNBC Pak­istan. He has a deep in­ter­est in re­gional pol­i­tics and writes fre­quently on var­i­ous topics.

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