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Siddhi B. Ranjitkar: CA Election In Nepal

Constituent Assembly Election In Nepal

By Siddhi B. Ranjitkar

By the official account, the election for a constituent assembly (CA) is scheduled for April 10, 2008. The CA is for crafting a new Nepalese people's fundamental law called Constitution of Nepal. It has been postponed since 1950s, as the then-despotic rulers did not want to hold the election for a CA being fearful of losing their grip on power and on their oppressive rule over the Nepalese people. However, the April Movement of the Nepalese people in 2006 led to a turn-round in the politics of Nepal. The movement was for the Nepalese people's power and for making Nepal a democratic republic. So, more than 90% Nepalese people want the election for a CA assuming the seven-party alliance (SPA) represents them. However, some people are still attempting to disrupt the election for a CA hoping to revive the already dead monarchy.

If you listen to or watch the political analysts and political gurus of Nepal talking to more than 100 Nepalese FM Radios and about 10 Nepalese TVs you will surely be confused whether the election for a CA will be held as scheduled or not. Some political analysts swear by almighty God that the SPA will not be able to hold the election for a CA, as the Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and his daughter Sujata Koirala appointed to the Minister without portfolio but working for the Prime Minister are trying to dislodge the election for a CA in order to save the monarchy from extinction. After getting an appointment to the Minister without portfolio from her father on January 10, 2008, Sujata Koirala went to her hometown called Biratnagar and talking to the reporters said that she is for reviving the Constitution of Nepal of 1990 in which the democracy and the monarchy were made irremovable. Some interim legislators even demanded strong actions against her telling that she had overstepped the Interim Constitution of 2007 speaking for the monarchy. Others say that the Government of Nepal will not be able to hold the election for a CA without meeting the demands put forward by some Nepalese Madheshis and ethnic groups. However, most of the political analysts and politicians are optimistic about the election for a CA and feel the urgent need for the election for saving Nepal from being a failed-state.

Officiating President of the Nepali Congress (NC) party, Sushil Koirala has repeatedly been warning the Nepalese people of the possibility of a civil war if the election for a CA is not held as scheduled. However, he never bothered to elaborate who is going to launch such a civil war. Some of the protesting groups in the Terai area have been against the hill people working in Terai, probably they have in mind the ethnic cleansing; and the hill people's association called Samar –Bhavar has been willing to fight back. However, it will not turn into a civil war even if there is a conflict between the hill people and the Terai people. Probably, Sushil Koirala must have seen that the royalists headed by Sujata Koirala in his party have been planning such a civil war for saving the monarchy.

Chairman of Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) Upendra Yadav has warned of the possibility of a civil war if the seven-party government thrusts the CA election on Madheshi people using its police and army. On Sunday, January 20, 2008, addressing a press meet held in Lahan, Siraha district, Yadav also advised the government not to hold the election without first solving the problems in the Terai and meeting the just demands of the Madheshi groups. [1]

On December 23, 2008, the SPA probably representing 90% Nepalis reached a 23-point agreement on declaring Nepal a federal democratic republic by the Interim Legislature-parliament and holding an election for a CA and then the first session of the to-be-elected CA endorsing the declaration of Nepal a federal democratic republic. So, Sujata Koirala and her comrade-in-arms such as Govinda Raj Joshi, Khum Bahadur Khadka, Taranath Ranabhatt, Chiranjivi Wagle and some others in her Nepali Congress (NC) party, the most well-known corrupt politicians have been nervous of it and have been trying every trick in the book but have not been successful to achieve their goal of saving the monarchy. If you believe in the Nepalese media they have receive a large sum of money from the palace for doing all sorts of the dirty works.

The SPA leaders have been going ahead with the campaigning for holding the election for a CA. Following the 23-point agreement they reached on December 23, 2008, they held a joint mass rally in seven different towns in Nepal. On January 26, 2008, they held a mass rally in Janakpur despite the strong opposition of some Madheshi groups. However, some Madheshi leaders said that they asked their cadres to abstain from joining the groups that have indulged in violence to disrupt the SPA mass rally in Janakpur. On January 28, the SPA held another mass rally under tight security in Nepalgunj anticipating the disruption of the rally by some Madheshi groups. On January 30, 2008, they held the last mass rally in Birgunj where a bomb went off injuring 42 people including the district administrator. Reacting to the bomb blast in Birgunj, Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula said that a few bombs going off here and there wouldn't stop the election for a CA.

Speaking at the Nepalgunj mass rally on January 28, 2008, Chairman of Nepal Workers and Peasant's Party (NWPP) Narayan Man Bijukchhe said that the success of the previous joint mass meetings with the people's overwhelming participation had showed that no one could stop the April-10 CA poll. Chairman of People's Front Nepal, Amik Serchan said, "Those who are trying to disrupt the mass meetings held for the success of the CA poll are not the well-wishers of Madheshi people but the supporters of the reactionaries. Joint General Secretary of NC, Arjun Nar Singh K.C. called on the people to be alert to removing all obstacles that might disrupt the CA poll; the poll is for institutionalizing the achievements of the Nepalese people's movement. Minister for Information and Communications and the CPN-Maoist Leader, Krishna Bahadur Mahara said, "People have entrusted the responsibility of making new Nepal to the seven parties, if anyone of them tries to sideline the responsibility he would be taken as an enemy of the people." General Secretary of Nepal Sadbhawana Party (Anandidevi), Devendra Mishra said, "The demands put forth by Madheshi people are appropriate but only the CA poll can address them so we should make the election a success." The leaders of the SPA reaffirmed their commitment to the inter-party unity to build a new Nepal through the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. [2]

The CPN-Maoist has already started preparing for the CA poll. Speaking in the concluding ceremony of two-day's training program held in Lalitpur on January 24, 2008, for heads of the organizations affiliated to the CPN-Maoist, Chairman Prachanda called on his comrades to recommend only popular candidates for the CA election and said that the heads have to play a significant role in the CA election and urged them to be responsible. He said that the heads must take to the Nepalese people the decision of the Central Committee and three-month's work-plan formulated by the National Party-workers Assembly. [3]

Some of the prominent leaders such as Mahant Thakur resigned from his parent party NC, Hridesh Tripathy from Nepal Sadbhawana Party (Anandidevi), and others from other political parties, too, and then resigned from the Interim Legislature-parliament and formed a new party called Terai Madhesh Loktantrik Party (TMLP) to launch protests against the SPA government. If they are fighting for justice they could have done better staying on in their respective party and leading their people's struggle for justice, and also staying on in the Interim legislature-parliament and fighting from within the parliament. However, they have probably betrayed the people they are supposed to lead for justice by forming a new party and disrupting the election for a CA, which might be another forum for realizing justice for their people. The leader of the new party Mahant Thakur has said that his party is not going to participate in the CA poll. It clearly indicates that he is not for making the CA poll a success. From all these accounts you can easily guess and question whether they are funded or not by the palace for making the CA poll unsuccessful as it will benefit only to the people who are fighting for the survival of the monarchy.

A leader of Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF)) in other words Madheshi People's Rights Forum (MPRF) led by Upendra Yadav, Jaya Prakash Gupta has said that his party has no policy of foiling mass meetings of the seven parties or attacking political leaders but will deal politically with political problems. "We have already appealed to our cadres not to resort to such tactics," he said. Gupta said that some leaders of the seven parties were unnecessarily provoking the people of Madhes by making irresponsible remarks. "Some leaders have talked about army mobilization and others have said that all problems of Madhes have already been resolved," Gupta said. "They should not make such remarks." Gupta also said that he does not see any possibility of holding the CA election in Terai unless the concerns of the people there are addressed. [4] Former Prime Minister and NC senior leader Sher Bahadur Deuba has repeatedly said in the public that the problems of the Madheshi Nepalis have already resolved. Nobody knows how he came to this conclusion. Once, the suspended king had fired him from the position of Prime Minister for his incompetence.

On January 26, 2008, addressing the mass rally in Janakpur, Nepali Congress vice-president and Minister for Peace and Reconstruction Ram Chandra Poudel said the seven parties and the government were fully committed to holding the CA election on the date scheduled for it. He also renewed the government's call to both the armed and the unarmed Terai groups for talks. Maoist leader and Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation Matrika Yadav said that the protest launched by new Madheshi parties was not meant to empower the Madheshi people, but to serve the interest of some feudal lords, and added that the CA election was the key to ensuring the Madheshi people get their rights. Activists of Rajendra Mahato-led Sadbhawana Party (SP) and Mahant Thakur's Terai Madhesh Loktantrik Party (TMLP) held a rally at Shivchowk in Janakpur to disrupt the mass rally called by the seven parties. The Rajendra Mahato-led Sadbhawana Party (SP) and Mahant Thakur's Terai Madhesh Loktantrik Party (TMLP) were among the Madheshi groups imposing bandh in Terai to disrupt the seven-party's mass rally. Armed outfits such as Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (Goit faction) backed the bandh. [5]

Various armed and unarmed Madheshi groups have reached a 23-point understanding of cooperation on reducing the influence of the ruling seven-party alliance in the Terai region ahead of the April election. Dhanusha district chief of the Madhes Raksha Bahini, Manoj Mukti revealed that they have agreed to jointly resist the joint meetings of seven parties. Madhes Raksha Bahini is a militant youth wing of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party led by Rajendra Mahato. They also agreed not to abduct, or obtain money by extortion from the people of Madheshi origin. They have also agreed to carry out their protest rallies jointly. The understanding has reached among the Madhes Raksha Bahini of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party led by Rajendra Mahato, Raksha Bahini of the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum led by Upendra Yadav, and the armed groups such as Jwala Singh's Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha, Terai Mukti Morcha and Madheshi Mukti Tigers. [6]

The more than a week-long meeting of the Central committee meeting of Young Communist League (YCL) concluded on Friday, January 25, 2008 decided to deploy more than four million youth volunteers at 200 per every polling booth across the country during the election to help the people cast their votes freely and prevent untoward activities. The Election Commission has set the number of polling booths at 20,883 for the CA elections. "The meeting decided to orient all our efforts to the CA election and from now onward our activists and activities will be focused on making the election free and fair," YCL chairman Ganesh Man Pun said at a press meet held on Saturday to disclose the decision of the meeting. Evaluating the YCL's nearly two-month-long Mechi-Mahakali Republic Youth March that began in the last week of November, the meeting concluded that the Youth March played a vital role in creating congenial environment for the CA poll by raising public awareness of republic and nationalism. [7]

Some dissatisfied central leaders of the NC party have once again criticized the party leadership for surrendering to the Maoists. At a gathering in Damauli of Tanahu district on Saturday, January 26, 2008, NC General Secretary KB Gurung regretted that they were being labeled as royalists for stating their position against disintegration of the nation. "We are not monarchists. We believe that the nation must not be disintegrated," Gurung said. Another central NC leader Bijaya Gachhadar said that the NC surrendered to the Maoists by signing the 23-point agreement with the Maoists. "NC has lost the public support by carrying the Maoists on its shoulder. We are losing the support of the public," he said. Khum Bahadur Khadka added that they were dissatisfied with the decision to declare Nepal a republic through the parliament and integrate the Maoist army into the Nepali Army. Govinda Raj Joshi also made similar accusations at the gathering. [8]

The estimated cost of holding the CA election on April 10 has increased from the previously estimated Rs 2.25 billion to Rs 2.73 billion an increase of more than Rs 530 million. A senior officer at the Election Commission (EC) said that the EC is bound to increase the budget following the government's decision on reviewing the regulations on travel allowance. "The government decided to review regulations related to travel allowance and daily allowance (TA/DA) for civil servants, increasing these by up to 144 percent. This has led to huge increase in election expenses," he said on condition of anonymity. "Earlier, the EC had estimated that Rs 670 million would be spent on TA/DA for over 240,000 poll officials. However, following the government decision to increase TA/DA, the EC requires approximately Rs 1.36 billion for these allowances alone," he said. A cabinet meeting held in the last November reviewed the regulations setting Rs 300 to Rs 750 as TA/DA for staff ranging from the fourth-class non-gazette to the special class. Civil servants working in the 20 districts of the remote hill and mountain regions receive 20 percent more. In addition, they receive Rs 300 to Rs 1,200 as an allowance for accommodation. [9]

On January 27, 2008, the Secretariat Meeting of CPN-Maoist has selected the districts where all the eleven secretariat members of the party will contest in the election for the CA slated for April 10. The meeting has, however, not made decision on the constituencies of the districts. The secretariat members that make up the Maoist headquarters will compete for the seats to be elected directly to the CA. Following the decision, party chairman Prachanda will contest at the two constituencies of two separate districts: one in Kathmandu, the capital city and another in Rolpa, the base of 10-year long Maoist armed rebellion. Other secretariat members such as Dr. Baburam Bhattarai will contest in Gorkha, Ram Bahadur Thapa 'Badal' in Chitwan, Mohan Baidhya 'Kiran' and Krishna Bahadur Mahara in Dang, CP Gajurel 'Gaurav' in Sindhuli, and Post Bahadur Bogati 'Diwakar' in Nuwakot, Top Bahadur Rayamajhi 'Anil' in Arghakhanchi, Dev Prasad Gurung in Manang, Netra Bikram Chand 'Biplav' in Kailali and Barsha Man Pun 'Ananta' in Lalitpur district. The 601-member CA will have 240 members directly elected, 335 elected through the proportional electoral system and 26 members to be nominated by the cabinet. [10]

On January 27, 2008, at the face-to-face program held at the Reporters' Club Nepal, President of Sadbhawana Party, Rajendra Mahato said that the Medheshis are the oppressed people and they need the CA election the most. Madheshi leaders have stressed that they are not hostile to the CA election but an environment conducive to the election should be created before holding the poll. He said that the election is possible in the mid-April if their minimum demands are met. Leader of Terai-Madhes Democratic Party, Sarbendra Shukla said that his party put forward the 11-point demand for making the election result-oriented. Raghubir Mahaseth of the CPN-UML said that it would be meaningless to put forward demands when the election is at hand and Madheshi communities would suffer if the election could not be held. Deenanath Sharma of CPN-Maoist stressed the need for the government to hold talks with the true political powers of Madhes and control the anarchic forces. [11]

On Sunday, January 27, 2008, spokesperson for the Judicial Council (JC) Nahakul Subedi said that the JC recommended the government to appoint the Supreme Court (SC) Justice Anup Raj Sharma to the chairman of the CA Court. The JC also recommended the name of Supreme Court Justices such as Tap Bahadur Magar and Ram Kumar Prasad Sah for the members of the CA Court. According to the spokesperson, a meeting of the JC headed by Chief Justice Kedar Prasad Giri took the decision following the government's request made to the JC for recommending the judges for the court, as the government is going to announce the inception of the court soon following the provision made for a separate court in the Interim Constitution for taking up the cases and crimes relating to the election for the CA. The JC also recommended the government to appoint Subedi, joint secretary at the JC, as the registrar of the court. [12]

On Monday, January 28, 2008, speaking at a press meet held by the Morang chapter of Nepal Press Union in the eastern town called Biratnagar, the NC Acting President Sushil Koirala said that with the approval of the seven parties, the Government of Nepal should mobilize the Nepali Army if the situation so demands to hold the election for the CA in the Terai region in a peaceful manner. "Army can be deployed to hold the election in a peaceful environment and on time," Koirala said, "There's no need for anybody to get surprised in this." He also said that the election is crucial, as there is a danger of a civil war breaking out in the country if it is not held this time. The remarks by the NC Acting President come at a time when experts are saying that any extra use of force by the state to bring the situation under control in Terai might further polarize the armed Madheshi groups, leading to a rise of an armed separatist movement there. Yesterday, the chairman of Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), Upendra Yadav, said in a press conference in the same town that the country would face 'misfortune' if army were deployed to suppress the just demands put forward by Madheshi people. [13]

On January 28, 2008, at a press meet held at the Pokhara airport by the Association of Revolutionary Journalist of Kaski district, senior leader of the CPN-Maoist, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai said that the army should not be mobilized for maintaining law and order in the election for the CA. He said that the police force is sufficient for providing security during the election period, and disagreed with some of the SPA leaders issuing statements in support of the army mobilization. "It is the responsibility of the police and the armed police to provide security in the election and if they require any help the people will play the role," said Dr. Bhattarai. He was on his way back to Kathmandu after participating in the meeting of Tamuwan state committee of his party. He dismissed the allegation of the NC leaders that the election would not be free and fair if the YCL cadres were mobilized for the polling booths. "The monarchist forces are active under various guises against the CA and all the people should get united to foil their conspiracies," he said, adding, "The election will formally eradicate the monarchy from the country." [14]

On Tuesday, January 29, 2008 in Sankhuwasabha, CPN-UML Standing Committee Member Jhala Nath Khanal said that the government of Nepal could mobilize the Nepali Army during the upcoming CA election if necessary on the approval of SPA. Khanal's remarks came a day after the Maoist Second-in-Command Dr Baburam Bhattarai said that the Nepali Army could be mobilized within the ambit of the Interim Constitution on the basis of a consensus among the SPA if security situation in the Terai spirals out of control. Alleging some groups planning to disrupt the CA election in order to protect the monarchy, the CPN-UML leader said that a couple of groups could not stop the CA poll from taking place, as the seven parties, the Election Commission and the public in general have been already working for the election. [15]

Nepalese Ambassador to the US, Dr Suresh Raj Chalise presented his credentials to US President George W Bush at the White House on Tuesday afternoon, January 22, 2008. On this occasion, President Bush said, "The United States encourages the government and the Communist Party of Nepal - Maoist to work together to ensure that CA elections are held by mid-April. Nepal has undergone profound changes, moving from a monarchy to an emerging democracy with an emerging economy." The President further said that the US salutes the progress made by the government and the Nepali people in the ongoing transition to democracy and also commends Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala for his role in leading Nepal's political parties toward CA poll. [16]

The Indian Ambassador to Nepal has said that the upcoming election for the CA is the most important step in the current journey, which Nepal is taking. "A free and fair election to the CA, which will give Nepal and its people their new social, economic and political future, remains the most important step in this journey," Shiva Shankar Mukherjee has said in a statement he issued on the occasion of 59th Republic Day of India on Saturday, January 26, 2008. "As Nepal turns a new chapter in its history, India has expanded its existing cooperation with Nepal and is rendering all possible assistance for the success of the peace process," he said. Ambassador Mukherjee also reiterated India's commitment to contribute to meeting 'the requirements of Nepal and the friendly people of Nepal in their historic quest and endeavor.' [17]

The Government of India has donated 1,200 four-wheeled-drive vehicles and 14,000 sets of communication equipment to Nepal to be used for the CA election. Indian Ambassador to Nepal Shiva Shankar Mukherjee handed over the vehicles and communication equipment to Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula during a function held at the Indian Embassy on Friday, January 25, 2008. Speaking on the occasion, Ambassador Mukherjee reiterated that India wished to see Nepal's transition to a democratic, peaceful and prosperous country and reaffirmed India's commitment to support "in whatever manner possible the efforts aimed at creating a new democratic, stable and prosperous Nepal in accordance with the wishes of the people of Nepal". [18]

The friendly countries have given the support for the CA poll. The SPA leaders are sure to hold the CA poll. However, some elements supported by the palace for disrupting the CA election are still active. It remains to be seen how the SPA leaders will deal with these elements.

Footnotes

[1] Nepalnews.com ag Jan 20 08, "Civil war might erupt if election forced on Madhesi people: MJF chief"

[2] The Rising Nepal, January 29, 2008, "Inter-party unity will remain unshaken: Leaders; Thousands attend Nepalgunj meet despite strike"

[3] The Rising Nepal, January 26, 2008, "Prachanda urges cadres to name popular candidates"

[4] Nepalnews.com sd Jan 26 08, "Gupta says MJF not involved in foiling SPA meeting"; The Rising Nepal, January 27, 2008 "MPRF tells cadres not to join agitating groups"

[5] Nepalnews.com mk Jan 26 08, "SPA holds election assembly in Janakpur amid tight security; bandh organizers clash with police"

[6] Nepalnews.com sd Jan 26 08, "Armed and unarmed Terai outfits reach their own pact of cooperation"

[7] The Rising Nepal, January 27, 2008 "YCL to dispatch 200 volunteers to each polling booth"; Nepalnews.com sd Jan 26 08 "YCL to launch CA election campaign"

[8] Nepalnews.com sd Jan 27 08, "Congress dissidents criticize leadership"

[9] Ekantipur.com, Kantipur Report, January 26, 2008, "Poll expense estimate up Rs 530m"

[10] The Rising Nepal, January 28, 2008, "CPN-Maoist decides poll contesting districts for eleven top leaders; Prachanda to fight in capital, Rolpa"

[11] The Rising Nepal, January 28, 2008 "Madhes needs CA polls most, say leaders"

[12] Ekantipur.com, Kantipur Report, January 27, 2008, "Sharma to head CA court"

[13] Nepalnews.com ag Jan 28 08, "Sushil re-emphasizes idea of army deployment"

[14] The Rising Nepal, January 29, 2008, "Dr. Bhattarai opposes army mobilization for polls"

[15] Ekantipur.com, Kantipur Report, January 29, 2008, "Khanal backs Dr Bhattarai on army mobilization during polls"

[16] Ekantipur.com, Kantipur Report, January 23, 2008, "Work jointly for polls: Bush urges govt, Maoists"

[17] Nepalnews.com sd Jan 26 08, "CA election is the most important step: Mukherjee"

[18] Nepalnews.com mk Jan 25 08, "India donates 1200 vehicles, 14000 communication sets to Nepal"

ENDS

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

Siddhi B. Ranjitkar can be reached at srilaxmi_AT_wlink.com.np. His website is siddhiranjitkar.com

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