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Khagendra Thapa: Nepal on Fire

Nepal on Fire


By Khagendra Thapa

Before departing from Nepal , the outgoing ambassador of Russia His Excellency Mr. Valery V. Nazarov wrote to Nepali people “.. may I give you friendly advice to show more tolerance, understanding and goodwill towards each other in pursuing your national goals. It is not proper for sons and daughters to argue let alone to quarrel at the bedside of their ill parents. Your fatherland and motherland - Nepal is seriously ill. The name of the illness is terrorism. Please stop squabbling and join hands in combating this deadly common menace together. Your home - Nepal is in flames, and the primary task of all the inhabitants is to extinguish the fire, to save the people and to do away with the incendiaries - not to argue on how and who can do it better.”

Ambassador Nazarov, a true friend of Nepali people, stated it appropriately. It is time to have flexibility in our stands and stop fighting among ourselves. If we continue to fight among ourselves, the day will come when we will have to regret that our enemies have taken advantage of the situation and our motherland may not be there. Our forefathers such as Bhakti Thapa fought hard against the colonialist to keep our motherland free from foreign invaders. He fought back at the age of 70 with khukuris and stones against a well armed enemy. We need to remember the facts of our history and our glory and we need to be united otherwise we will be finished as a nation and as a people.

How did get where we are today?

During the Panchayat period, the so called Panchas concentrated on enriching themselves and as long as they show their loyalty to the King they could get away with any kind of corruption or fraud and sometimes even criminal activities. Corruption was not really open and was limited to small amounts and was hidden. Most development works were limited to cities. However, it was during this period that the East-West High way was completed in addition to many other road projects such as Prithvi high way, It failed to be an all inclusive in terms of the distribution of resources. Some regions such as the far western regions were excluded in any kind of development activities. It also failed to reach out to all disadvantaged ethnic groups.

Eventually, it was the excesses of the supposedly a loyal group to the King called Mandales which was responsible in triggering the 1990 protest against the King which brought the political change of 1990. This forced the king out of the active politics and following the drafting of new constitution and general elections, Nepali Congress Party headed by Girija Koirala came to power.

Multiparty Government Failed to Punish Corrupt Panchas

Following the revolt, Panchayat rule was ended and an interim government headed by Krishna Prasad Bhattarai was installed. In the meantime, a commission headed by Mallik was formed to examine and identify the corrupt criminals during the Panchayat period. The commission prepared an extensive report. The report was never made public and both Bhattarai and Girija failed to implement and punish the Panche criminals. This really angered many people including the cadres of various political parties including the congress party who participated in the violent demonstrations to bring about the 1990 political change. However, no one dared to question Girija for he was the new king in the Himalayan Kingdom. Girija was supposedly a democratically elected prime minister. There are three fundamental tenets of democracy namely: 1. rule of law, 2. transparency and 3. accountability. Girija already violated a basic tenet of democracy that is transparency by failing to first make the report public and secondly he refused to implement it. Consequently most corrupt and hated Panchas such as Navaraj Subedi went unpunished with the millions of rupees of looted money.

After three general elections with no government able to serve the complete five year term and political parties and their bosses concentrating more on personal financial and political gain, Maoists insurgents started armed revolt from the western remote districts in 1996. Maoists started the revolt with their forty popular demands which were mostly justified. At the beginning, people liked what Maoists were doing and had a lot of supporters. However, now their demands have been reduced to one that is the election of a constituent assembly which will supposedly draft a new constitution. Maoists became unpopular among the people primarily because of three factors viz: 1. brutal killing of innocent villagers, 2. extortion, and 3. destruction of infrastructure. It is to be noted that Maoists have not killed a single corrupt officials or politicians. They have also abducted school children and villagers and use them as human shields during their attacks against security forces.

When Prime Minister Deuba was about to face the vote of no confidence in parliament in 2002, he dissolved the parliament and agreed to hold elections within six months as required under 1990 constitution. In order to maximize his chances of winning the elections he also dissolved the elected local government bodies. He wanted to change the outcome of the elections by having his own supporters at the local level. Local level governments play an important role in winning elections by manipulating the votes and voters. Elections in Nepal have never been fair. Spending of tremendous amounts of corrupt money by incumbent candidates was a common practice. There are no term limits. Contrary to the democratic principle of one person one vote, the party leaders were allowed to run for elections from more than one constituency. For example, Girija Koirala always ran both from Morang district and Sunsari district. In addition, there are no primary elections. One can only run for parliament if the party boss like Gririja or Madhav Nepal issue a party ticket. Therefore, you either have to bribe the party leader or one has to be relative of party boss in order to run for the parliament. My own relative in Congress Party was denied ticket by Girija because she refused to bribe him. On the other hand, if you are an extremely corrupt politician and have collected a lot of money, party leader will give a ticket without any questions.

When Deuba failed to hold the general elections within six months as required by the constitution, king Gyanendra dismissed him and asked the political parties to forward a clean person to be appointed prime minister. It is interesting to note that there was virtually no opposition even by political parties when the king sacked Deuba in October 2002. After successive governments failed to hold the national elections and settle the insurgency problem, King Gyanendra dismissed the government appointed by himself in February 2005 and took the executive power and declared a state of emergency in the country. He said that he was going to curb corruption and solve the insurgency problem.

Since people were fed up with the corruption and incompetence of the political parties and their leaders, majority of the people including myself supported the King’s takeover. The King also came up with 21 point program which made people very hopeful about the King’s plan to restore democracy within three years.

How did the King Fail to Deliver?

No Homework before Action

First of all, the king had not done the necessary homework before he acted. He had no plan of action. He obviously was not prepared for the massive task he undertook. Even Nepal’s long time friends the United States and UK did not approve of his actions forget about the immediate neighbor in the south. Worst of all, the very person who asked the political parties to send clean person as prime minister and the very person who promised to fight corruption not only appointed corrupt individuals but also the convicted criminals in his government. When he appointed the corrupt criminals who were called Mandales during Panchayat era, people started to doubt the sincerity of the King. Many people had doubts as to the real intentions of the King’s takeover. He did not bring competent, clean and qualified people to implement his 21 point program.

Above all, the King had very poor public relations. Consequently, he increasingly isolated himself internationally. His incompetent and stupid ministers were more of a liability than assets. He has practically no support left among the comity of nations. People got very frustrated when he failed to curb corruption and control insurgency. His attempt to hold local level elections in the municipalities also failed to impress people since most of the political parties boycotted elections because they were going to lose big time. Maoists threat of violence and the murder of the candidates by the insurgents really prevented people from participating in the election.

The King even failed to convince the so called royalist parties to participate in the elections. To make matters worse, India engineered the twelve point agreement between the seven political parties and the Maoists. This gave a real boost to the status of both the insurgency and the seven political parties in the eyes of the people. Now the nationwide unrest called by the seven parties and assisted by Maoist has put the country on the fire.

King Failed to Punish Corrupt Leaders

When the King took power in Feb. 1, 2005, people had high hopes that he will arrest and persecute all those government officials as well as the political leaders who had collected massive amount of money during the period 1990-2002. People wanted that money to be confiscated. However, the King did not initiate any action against them. The commission he created was unable to carry out its charge. The commission was dismantled by the Supreme Court. Now the corrupt individuals, with the blessings of the political parties, are financing the current unrest against the King.

Losers Became Heroes

Thanks to the inability of the King to deliver what he promised on Feb. 1, 2005, the leaders of the political parties who were hated by the people prior to 2005, have once again become heroes. The people who did not care about human rights during the time they were in power have become great proponents of human rights. The same leaders who now chant the mantra of democracy did not have any respect for democracy when they were in power. Did they follow the rule of law? Were they transparent in what their party did? Are they accountable for what happened to the country and the people? Were they able to solve the Bhutanese refugees problem? Why did not Girija block border with India when thousands of refugees passed through the Indian territory to come to Nepal? Refugees go to a bordering country and not the country which has no common border. If Girija had the ability to think, Nepal would never have to face the Bhutanese refugee problem? Why did the democratically elected government ignore the 40 point demands put forward by the Maoists? Most of those demands were reasonable. However, the new elected kings of Nepal did not want to listen to anything that did not benefit themselves or their political parties. They ignored ideas of small parties as if they were little kids. When the Maoists started armed insurgency, they unsuccessfully tried to crush them. If the king gives up power now, I wonder how the political parties and the Maoists are going to operate. I bet they will be back to square one.

Unrest has Hit the Poor People Hard

The nationwide unrest has really hit the poor people very hard. Over a million people are internally displaced in Nepal due to ten year old insurgency. Most of the displaced people have moved to the cities as internal refugees. In order to survive, they have to work whole day so that they can feed the family. As a result of the unrest in major cities of the country, these displaced people as well as the poor people who were already in the cities are living without food. To make matters worse, even the middle class is feeling the pain. They are running out of food and cooking gas. Those who have invested in businesses are losing money everyday. They cannot attend to social activities. They could not perform planned wedding ceremonies because they cannot travel.

Movement Cannot be Suppressed

Unlike the 1990 movement, this movement is very different in that it is supported and actively participated by armed guerrillas. It is not just limited to big cities. It is practically nationwide. The King has no support left. If the movement continues any further, it is likely that the soldiers and police will refuse to take orders from the officers and commanders. Firing at civilians involved in peaceful protest is not acceptable. Killing of civilians will make matters even worst. It will be like adding fuel to the fire. If the King wants to preserve the monarchy, he has very few options left. He has no one to blame other than himself and his foolish ministers and other crooks who are profiting from the current situation.

Possible Solution

One possible solution would be for the King to revive the parliament dissolved by the Deuba government and ask them to hold the general election within a specified time period. This will put the responsibility of running the country and solving the insurgency problem back to the soldiers of the political parties. The minute he does that the political parties will be back to each others throat again. Hopefully, this time around their allies the Maoists will help out.

In order to save his face the King could put the following condition to the political parties so that they are more democratic and more responsible to the people:

1. No one can run for parliament from more than one constituency

2. There must be spending limit during the election of parliament by each candidate. For example, they cannot spend more than what they can earn as a member of parliament during the five years they are members.

3. There must be a term limit so that a person cannot be a member of parliament for more than two terms i.e. ten years.

4. There must be complete transparency in the financial transactions of political parties as well as candidates. Party income and expenditures must be made public and must be audited by an independent auditing agency. Complete democracy as demanded by the political parties cannot be achieved without complete transparency and accountability.

5. There must be a provision to recall a member of parliament if 67% of the voters disagree with his or her performance.

6. Each political party and its leaders must be accountable for their actions. If they want to demonstrate in streets, then the financial loss incurred by the citizens as result of their actions must be paid by the parties.

7. There must be primary elections to qualify as to who can run for the member of the parliament so that there is no need to bribe a leader to get a ticket.

8. Anyone who is convicted criminal must not be allowed to vote even if the person has completed the jail sentence. Such criminals must not be allowed to run for any kind of elections.

9. Form a commission to investigate and report the excesses done by the political leaders, their relatives, and government employees (including police and army) after 1990. Persecute and take away all the ill-gotten wealth from everyone without any fear and favor.

10. Persecute those who were mentioned in Malik report and punish them appropriately.

Alternative Solution

The alternative solution may be to ask the political parties as well as the Maoists to form a coalition government which will uphold the above mentioned criteria and hold general elections within a specified time period. This might be more difficult to achieve under the circumstances.

*************

Dr. Khagendra Thapa is a professor at Ferris State University in Michigan, USA.

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