The Grow­ing Po­lit­i­cal Di­vide

Al­though Nepal has be­come a demo­cratic coun­try, its in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal cri­sis and in­de­ci­sion to hold elec­tions places it in jeop­ardy in terms of po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity.

Southasia - - NEPAL POLITICS - By Dr. Moo­nis Ah­mar

Nepal is stand­ing at a po­lit­i­cal cross­road, fol­low­ing years of po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, in­sta­bil­ity and pop­u­lar dis­con­tent. Elec­tions for the con­stituent assem­bly, which were sched­uled sev­eral times, had to be post­poned be­cause of a lack of con­sen­sus among Nepal’s ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties. As a re­sult, Nepal, in the post-monar­chi­cal pe­riod, has de­moc­ra­tized its in­sti­tu­tions to pro­vide good gov­er­nance to its peo­ple and is cur­rently fac­ing se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal up­heaval in view of deep rooted po­lit­i­cal and eth­nic di­vide in the coun­try.

Sand­wiched be­tween the two gi­ants, China and In­dia, and with a pop­u­la­tion of 26 mil­lion, Nepal has nearly 100 eth­nic groups and castes. The vi­o­lent civil war that lasted from 1996-2006 be­tween the Maoists and the se­cu­rity forces loyal to the monar­chy killed more than 13,000 peo­ple. In Novem­ber 2006, the Nepalese govern­ment and the Maoists signed a com­pre­hen­sive peace ac­cord to deal with is­sues em­a­nat­ing af­ter the demise of monar­chy.

The abol­ish­ment of monar­chy by the Nepalese Con­stituent Assem­bly in May 2008 and the as­sump­tion of power by the Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal (Maoists) in April 2008 trans­formed the po­lit­i­cal land­scape of Nepal. For nearly a year, CPN-M re­mained in power un­der the premier­ship of Puspa Kamal Da­hal also known as ‘Prachanda.’ On May 4, 2009, Prachanda re­signed from his post af­ter de­vel­op­ing dif­fer­ences with the Pres­i­dent over the sack­ing of the Army chief. The split in CPN-M and the sub­se­quent po­lit­i­cal cri­sis over hold­ing elec­tions for the con­stituent assem­bly fur­ther gal­va­nized po­lit­i­cal schism in the coun­try with no po­lit­i­cal party in a po­si­tion to pro­vide a vi­able road map for a smooth demo­cratic process. The first demo­cratic elec­tions in Nepal for a con­stituent assem­bly were held on April 10, 2008 in which the CPN-M emerged as the sin­gle largest party fol­lowed by the Nepali Congress Party and Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal (Marx-

ist-Lenin­ist) re­spec­tively. Un­for­tu­nately, the assem­bly failed to for­mu­late a con­sti­tu­tion and elec­tions to elect a new con­stituent assem­bly were post­poned twice.

Four ma­jor fac­tors are widen­ing the po­lit­i­cal di­vide in Nepal. First is the grow­ing iden­tity cri­sis in Nepal along eth­nic lines as there are around 100 eth­nic groups and sub-groups in Nepal. A ma­jor eth­nic flash point in Nepal is the coun­try’s south­ern re­gion bor­der­ing In­dia, called Terai, where the Madeshi peo­ple re­sent the dom­i­na­tion of Brah­mins and those rep­re­sent­ing ‘hill’ dis­tricts. Sec­ond, the Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal (Maoists), a break­away fac­tion of United Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal (Maoists), has re­fused to reg­is­ter as a party with the Nepali Elec­tion Com­mis­sion ar­gu­ing that it can­not con­test in the elec­tions un­der pre­vail­ing con­di­tions. CPN-M has a size­able fol­low­ing and its boy­cott from the elec­tions may fur­ther deepen Nepal’s po­lit­i­cal predica­ment. Third, the grow­ing Hindu ex­trem­ism in Nepal, in­flu­enced by Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has re­sulted in at­tacks on the Mus­lim com­mu­nity, which com­prises 4% of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion. De­spite be­ing a pre­dom­i­nantly Hindu state, Nepal for cen­turies fol­lowed mod­er­ate and tol­er­ant val­ues. Fourth, the di­vi­sion of Nepal along caste lines with the up­per caste (Brahims) still hold­ing the reins of power con­trib­utes to the deep­en­ing so­cial di­vide within the coun­try.

Fol­low­ing the fall of the monar­chy, the non-Brah­man peo­ple, who con­sti­tute the ma­jor­ity in Nepal, de­manded an end to cen­turies of caste­based ex­ploita­tion. In­ter­est­ingly, the Maoists, who are wag­ing the strug­gle for a class­less so­ci­ety in Nepal, are in a para­dox­i­cal sit­u­a­tion; they are strug­gling for a caste free Nepal but their lead­er­ship is pri­mar­ily from the Bra­ham caste. It is this type of a di­chotomy which has put a ques­tion mark as far as the Maoists strug­gle for a peo­ple’s rule is con­cerned.

Ac­cord­ing to sources, Nepal’s Elec­tion Com­mis­sion has reg­is­tered 135 po­lit­i­cal par­ties for the elec­tion of a new Con­stituent Assem­bly which is over­due and is ex­pected to take place in the near fu­ture. Out of th­ese 135 po­lit­i­cal par­ties, 76 are new and had not par­tic­i­pated in the 2008 con­stituent assem­bly elec­tions. In the 2008 elec­tions of con­stituent assem­bly, how­ever, 84 par­ties had ap­plied for regis­tra­tion but only 74 par­ties were reg­is­tered, 54 par­ties took part in the 2008 elec­tions and 25 were elected into the con­stituent assem­bly. As per the elec­tion laws, par­ties gain­ing 1% of the to­tal cast votes would get a seat in the con­stituent assem­bly un­der the pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion sys­tem. The rea­son for con­tin­ued delays in hold­ing elec­tions for the con­stituent assem­bly is twofold. First, Nepal is pass­ing through a crit­i­cal and tran­si­tory phase be­cause of cen­turies of monar­chi­cal rule and the ab­sence of a vi­able demo­cratic process. Ba­sic is­sues that have sur­faced in­clude the ques­tion of who should be al­lowed to con­test elec­tions; whether there should be a care­taker govern­ment to su­per­vise elec­tions and the process of elect­ing a new prime min­is­ter.

Sec­ond is the ex­ter­nal fac­tor hin­der­ing Nepal’s po­lit­i­cal process. The Maoists have ac­cused New Delhi of pur­su­ing an anti-Maoist ap­proach be­cause of its fear that Chi­nese in­flu­ence in Nepal may surge in case the Maoists as­sume power. Since long, Nepal faces the prob­lem of Sino-In­dian am­bi­tions to bring the land­locked Hi­malayan coun­try un­der New Delhi’s in­flu­ence. In­dia’s tilt in fa­vor of Nepali Congress Party is con­sid­ered a clear ev­i­dence of In­dia’s age-old po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions in Nepal. Fur­ther­more, many Nepali cir­cles lament that their coun­try has enor­mous wa­ter re­sources but is fac­ing se­ri­ous en­ergy short­falls be­cause of New Delhi’s lack of sup­port to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity from hydel power plants. Nepal has the po­ten­tial to gen­er­ate around 50,000 megawatts of elec­tric­ity from its wa­ter re­sources but is un­able to achieve its tar­gets be­cause of lack of funds and non-co­op­er­a­tion from its pow­er­ful south­ern neigh­bor.

Since 1996, Nepal’s po­lit­i­cal elite has failed to forge a con­sen­sus on hold­ing gen­eral elec­tions, for­mu­lat­ing a con­sti­tu­tion, main­tain­ing the rule of law, and run­ning the af­fairs of the govern­ment in a pro­duc­tive fash­ion. Four ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties of Nepal, the Nepali Congress Party, Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal (Marx­istLenin­ist), Uni­fied Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal (Maoists), and Mad­hesi Jana

Ad­hikar Fo­rum Demo­cratic, are un­able to hold mu­tual con­sul­ta­tion to break the po­lit­i­cal im­passe as far as hold­ing elec­tions for con­stituent assem­bly are con­cerned. Since Nepal lacks the ex­pe­ri­ence of a func­tional democ­racy, its civil so­ci­ety is not that as­sertive. Fur­ther­more, the lack of own­er­ship for the coun­try and its ma­jor un­re­solved is­sues is ev­i­dent among the ma­jor stake­hold­ers, both po­lit­i­cal and non-po­lit­i­cal.

In or­der to pull Nepal out of its po­lit­i­cal quandary, there is an ur­gent need to pur­sue a ‘multi-stake­holder’ ap­proach in which po­lit­i­cal par­ties, the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, the Pres­i­dent, civil so­ci­ety groups and the mil­i­tary need to sit to­gether and reach a con­sen­sus to bring Nepal out of its years of po­lit­i­cal im­passe. Moo­nis Ah­mar is Pro­fes­sor of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, Univer­sity of Karachi and Di­rec­tor, Pro­gram on Peace Stud­ies and Con­flict Res­o­lu­tion.

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