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M.R. Josse: Nepal – The Hard Part Begins

Hard Part Begins: Going Beyond Revolutionary Rhetoric


By M.R. Josse

Predictably, no discernible effort is being made to cool passions, patch up differences and heal wounds of the recent tumultuous past. Is all this part of a carefully choreographed scenario to push the nation irremediably over the brink? Or, is it merely the inexorable result of a movement that had more than one driving force or inspiration?

In any case, it is anyone's guess where such an uneasy fluid situation, if prolonged indefinitely, will lead this nation.

Evidence of the tumult, confusion and contradictions that still prevail on the political front is there for all to see. There would seem to be unanimity among the SPA constituents in as far as eliminating key personnel of the former regime is concerned. Yet, consensus is seemingly as elusive or intangible as the morning fog where other, far more significant, issues are concerned.

THE HARD PART

In other words, the easy part is over; the hard slog now begins. A vivid manifestation of the obtaining difficulties and problems is provided by the fact that the SPA government of seven members has, as of this writing on Tuesday morning, not been enlarged to a normal level. According to all indications, that is due to fierce conflicting claims and demands among SPA constituents who are, in theory, solidly united.

Quite aside from that, there is also the spectacle of the prime minister being largely invisible: perhaps that is due to his reported ill health. Given the immensity of the problems at hand, such a situation is, in any case, certainly not the most reassuring.

There are then discordant voices that are being heard regarding ownership of the 19-day mass movement that resulted in the reinstatement of the House of Representatives. While some members of the SPA claim that the movement was the singular contribution of the SPA, that is hotly contested both by members of civil society that were involved, as well as by the Maoists themselves.

At some point this controversy will need to be settled. Before then, it is worth noting that the Maoists are still insisting that the just reinstated House of Representatives, be dissolved and that the government, not yet fully formed, be replaced by an interim one in which they too would participate.

How this knotty tangle is to be unloosened remains to be seen.

It is also uncomfortable to note the degree of divergence and confusion that seemingly exists on the issue of a constituent assembly. Although all now declare their commitment or fealty to that ideal, clear differences are discernible about its pace and procedure.

Should it be endorsed by a simple or two-thirds majority of the constituent assembly? Should it be put to the whole nation for endorsement in a referendum, or not? While some wish to rush full steam ahead in that direction, others caution patience and careful preparation.

Moreover, at the popular level, judging by a spate of write-ups in the media, there is even confusion about what it is really all about. A common point in many of such articles is the need for a public awareness campaign on the subject before going ahead. That, to me, seems commonsensical given the gravity of the issues concerned and the need for all citizens to be clear what they are voting for.

Also, while members of the restored House reportedly want to declare it "supreme" – or, in other words, above all existing laws and regulations of the land – it would hardly go down well with the Maoists who roundly reject the House whose dissolution they have been demanding. According to one SPA stalwart: "Laws give rise to confusion."

Demands for the sacking of all service chiefs and related moves are being made every day, with scant thought going to the possible adverse impact of such rhetoric on the morale of the armed forces. They, after all, will still be needed in the future as long as Nepal continues to be an independent, sovereign state.

There are also discordant voices being ventilated on the issue of blanket release of Maoists, under trial or under jail sentences. Care should obviously be taken on this question, related as it is to the question of law and order if not national security itself.

Even today, let it not be forgotten, reports are coming in of acts of violence, including abductions and torture, by the Maoists. If the situation were, once again, to get out of hand would the state not need the armed forces? Can it therefore afford to treat them the way that they presently are being doing? It is wise?

CONSTITUTION: ALIVE OR DEAD?

Another vexing issue is whether the 1990 Constitution is alive or not. If it is not, are we then in a legal/constitutional vacuum at present? What could be the implications of such a state of affairs, now and into the future? Since the constitution is the basic law of the land it is legitimate to question whether there can be a democracy without the rule of law?

Indeed, since the nation is now poised for elections to draft a new constitution, what is the justification of an interim constitution when we are to go for full-scale elections for a constituent assembly to draft a brand new one? That has not been fully explained to the people. Perhaps some qualified independent legal eagles can, or should, provide the necessary illumination on this point.

Thus far, for example, the government has not come out in the open, one way or another, on whether it will seek international assistance in ensuring free and fair elections for a constituent assembly. That is essential, apart from all else, given the open Nepal-India border and the imperative to ensure that only eligible Nepali citizens are allowed to vote.

There is, then, as all know, the most difficult issue of arms management prior to holding elections for a constituent assembly. Who is to ensure, for example, what the total inventory of arms and related equipment that the Maoists possess is? Without that, what sense does it make to say that all their arms/weapons are under supervision – of whatever sort is eventually agreed upon.

Here it may be salutary to note what a leader of a Maoist-affiliated student body has recent stated. As reported in the Himalayan Times, he said that the "Maoists cannot surrender arms unless asked by the people." What exactly does that mean?

To be noted, too, is that, as the same individual explained, the Maoists have only agreed to have their arms "supervised" not for them to be "surrendered." Would those arms be taken back if the results of the constituent assembly were not in their favour?

Moreover, let it be noted that a UN official on tour in Nepal presently has pointedly ruled out the UN's role in such a process. Interestingly, this government has ruled out UN mediation for conflict resolution. That was precisely the position of the past government, even in the face of stiff opposition including that by the Maoists!

DAY-TO-DAY GOVERNANCE

Finally, the government needs to come to grips with the myriad day-to-day problems of the people, including that of providing adequate essential commodities at reasonable prices, of ensuring that educational institutions are not subjected to abrupt closures any more, as well as to tackle multifarious and urgent problems on the employment, public health, trade and services sectors.

It must also ensure that the past tendency of wholesale sacking and replacement by party cadre must be resisted in the greater cause of public welfare.

In short, the hard part is only just beginning.

ENDS


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