Nepal Sets Constituent Assembly Elections for November
After months of turmoil, political infighting and actual bloodshed consequent on King Gyanendra's relinquishing of absolute power on April 21, 2006, the interim eight-party coalition government (consisting of the Seven-Party Alliance and the Maoists-ed.) fixed November 22 as the new date for the much-awaited and crucial Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. The general public, however, has grown skeptical about holding them under existing circumstances, especially as they've already been postponed.
The government had agreed to hold the elections by mid-June and then postponed them to June 20, but the Election Commission (EC) failed to conduct the polls on both occasions, citing the absence of needed infrastructure and rules and regulations regarding the conduct of the EC itself in an increasingly volatile country-wide security situation.
Nonetheless, a day after the government announced the new date, the EC held a press conference in the capital, Kathmandu, to make the point that, pending the establishment of stability and security, polling might remain an unrealized dream. At the press conference Chief Election Commissioner Bhojraj Pokharel alluded to the need to create an atmosphere favoring a "free and fair" process that could be conducted on schedule.
It seems contradictory for the government to promote the earliest possible conduct of the polls when neither it nor the EC is clear about the protocols to be followed.
Prime Minister (and Head of State --Ed.) Girija Prasad Koirala has received blame for the postponements and the failure of the government to maintain law and order. According to media reports, there are nine major armed groups currently active, with several others grabbing headlines. Two separate factions of the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM-"Democratic Terai Liberation Front" --Ed.), the armed Madhesi Mukti Tigers (MMT) and the Madhesi Cobra Force top the list of groups responsible for many of the incidents of killing, kidnapping and bombing in the Terai region in recent days.
Then there is the Young Communist League (YCL), a Maoist affiliate, which many claim is made up of cadres who were out of place in the newly recruited Maoist People's Liberation Army, now assigned to cantonments by the peace accord in effect between the rebel party and the interim government. Prime Minister Koirala himself has branded the YCL as the "Young Criminal League" because of its illegal activities. According to UN reports, this Maoist wing has been responsible for most of the recent human rights violations. The YCL has also been blamed for creating a state of terror and intimidation in both urban and rural areas.
The "Madhesi Andolan" (Terai Movement --Ed.) has been underway for some time, and the situation in Madhesh (the Terai-ed.) seems to be getting out of control. The situation there is so volatile that the threat of ethnic conflict looms large, assuming things continue to deteriorate as they have been. I'd written about the need for making the Madhesi movement more inclusive and representative of all Madhesi people regardless of their color or ethnicity in my recent write-up Taking Madhesi Movement to New Heights (May 16) as well.
Unfortunately, there are significant differences among the major political parties in the country. The centrist Nepali Congress (NC) Party, which heads the eight-party coalition, has not made its stance clear on the monarchy, whereas other major parties, like the CPN-UML (Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist/Leninist-ed.) and the Maoists have found the remarks of Prime Minister and NC head Koirala difficult to construe. A furor occurred after his statement that the monarchy can be saved if the king and crown prince abdicate in favor of the "minor king," Hridayendra, King Gyanendra's grandson and the son of Crown Prince Paras.
Nepal is near to realizing those very dreams and aspirations of the common people who risked their lives in the struggle to restore parliament, which the king had dissolved. The April Uprising, also known as the People's Andolan II, successfully brought the king's autocratic rule to an end but failed to restore peace and prosperity. It failed to institute needed reforms, while coalition leaders began to carry on like autocrats themselves, attending parties hosted by and providing protection to the likes of loan defaulters, corrupt politicians and other officials. In place of the king's absolutism, Premier Koirala's autocratic style, with the help of the coalition, has been to reiterate the hollow promise of building a "New Nepal."
After the infamous Gaur carnage, in which 28 people lost their lives and several others received injuries, I expected the Home Minister (Krishna Prasad Sitaula --Ed.) to resign, taking moral responsibility for the tragedy, as could have been expected in other countries. It was clear that official ignorance and carelessness were in the main responsible for the bloodshed. Sitaula, however, a favorite of the premier, didn't bother to do so. Lately, the situation in regard to law and order in Nepal has gone from bad to worse, but the coalition continues to busy itself in fussing about the dates for the CA polls and chattering about them in order to garner public attention instead of focusing on making the security arrangements needed to conduct the elections in an ambience of safety and tranquility.
Bandhs (a form of general strike --Ed.), work stoppages and chakka jams (organized blockages of traffic --Ed.) have become frequent, as they were several years ago under the "democratic" regime prior to Gyanendra's Feb. 1, 2005 takeover. At the time of writing, a three-day bandh called by the YCL has shut down commerce in five of the eastern districts of the Terai -- Siraha, Saptari, Sunsari, Udayapur and Rautahat. People have suffered because of these bandhs, which have become common these days, as educational institutions, business centers and factories have remained closed. The Maoists called the three-day bandh to protest the killing of Maoist district leader Govinda Chaudhari by the JTMM.
Just before the Maoist-led bandh, the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF), which claims to be leading the Madhesi Andolan, had called a one-day bandh to demand the release of MPRF leader Jitendra Sah, who was abducted by YCL cadres about two weeks ago.
Regardless of the obstacles, the need for solidarity between the coalition and the people to create an environment favorable to the electoral process is of the utmost importance, if for no better reason than that many people still don't know what the CA polls mean. It's time to get beyond lip-service to the real work to be done and justify the faith of the ordinary Nepali that a "New Nepal" is indeed possible.
Despite the massive erosion of my trust in the political parties of our country I too am excited about the CA polls. Now is the time for the coalition and the people to work closely together to ensure that the process can be conducted according to schedule. If the elections are once again postponed, Nepal might regress into chaos, uncertainty and anarchy that could wreck the prospects for its resurgence from the devastation of a more-than-decade-long civil war.
As published in Ohmynews International
June 25, 2007
Nepal Sets Constituent Assembly Elections for November