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Nepal: Ruling But Not Governing

Ruling But Not Governing

By Shashi P.B.B. Malla & Chandra Bahadur Parbate

-The inevitable has now happened and the 'interim' government is now in place with the Maoists occupying key ministries. That alone is no great achievement, and it seems preposterous to proclaim "new era dawns on Nepal" (The Himalayan Times) or "Nation Takes a Leap" (The Kathmandu Post). For once the government organ, The Rising Nepal was quite level-headed by declaring: "Maoists finally join interim government." The taste of the pudding is in the eating and the next months will prove whether the parties in power will fulfill their own and the nation's expectations. The international media still seems to be more neutral mainly stating that the Maoists after a ten year insurgency have now joined the government.

The previous government had no standing either within the country or the international arena. It was just drifting along. Above all the Communists led by the former Deputy PM Bharat Mohan Adhikari put Koirala under heavy pressure to form the interim government before leaving for India to participate in the 14th SAARC summit. The UML's head of the department of international relations, Jhalanath Khanal had also expressed concerns about Nepal's tarnished image. Now like kings and emperors in the past who crowned themselves, Koirala administered the oath of office and secrecy in parliament to himself! This was indeed not only a damaging break in style, but an affront to constitutional and democratic norms.

Above all, it remains to be seen whether the interim government really means business. It has indicated that the peace process must be brought forward and the vexing problems of the ethnic minorities solved, if Nepal is to remain a viable state. The appointment of the second ranking man in the council of ministers, Ram Chandra Poudel, as the head of the newly created ministry of peace and reconstruction seems, at least on paper, to give a thrust to state-restructuring. However, it may also be a question of short-term tactics and not of long-run strategy on the part of the Nepali Congress. In any case, the party and Poudel himself have positioned him to follow Girija Prasad Koirala if the PM is somehow incapacitated. This could also be a move to keep the Maoists at bay and checkmate them in any future power struggle. Sitaula remains interior minister, but his standing has been considerably weakened. Moreover, his portfolio has been chipped away.

Sashi PBB Malla

Even at this early time, there are already fissures in the coalition government. The Seven Party Alliance as such no longer exists. The government parties comprise the two factions of the Nepali Congress (NC/G and NC-Democratic), the United Marxists-Leninists (UML), the Maoists (CPN-M), the Nepal Sadbhawana Party-Anandi Devi (NSP-A) and the United Left Front (ULF). The Nepal Workers and Peasants Party opted to stay out of the government and the Jan Morcha has still to nominate a candidate for the health portfolio. It is all told, a coalition of convenience of power sharing and is supposed to hold until the elections to the constituent assembly. In this regard, it seems to be more a caretaker government than its predecessor.

The PM was vehemently opposed to the candidature of the third ranking minister, Ms. Sahana Pradhan of the UML. As the head of the foreign ministry, she has it in her power to bring Nepal's foreign relations out of the doldrums. The previous minister, also of the UML was not very effective. He became a prey to party infighting and was powerless to push through the appointments of a dozen envoys. Perhaps this communist lady and former lecturer of economics is more resolute in giving the 'orphaned' embassies a new lease of life, above all since she has had a lot of international exposure.

The fourth ranking man in the cabinet and leader of the CPN-Maoist in the interim parliament, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, has taken over the ministry of information and communications. He was denied the rank of deputy prime minister (because Koirala considered him a greenhorn in politics), but has already given notice that 'a new broom sweeps clean'. He is the man to watch since he has amply demonstrated his negotiating skills before and after the 'people's movement' (the joint agitation of the seven parties and the Maoists) in the protracted parleys among the political parties. This catapulted him into prominence.

With five full ministerial berths (out of seventeen), the Maoists can be said to have achieved mainstream status. At their insistence, the date for the constitutional assembly (CA) elections has been fixed -- June 20. The question of the management of Maoist arms and ammunition remains unresolved yet. The UN Secretary General's representative in Nepal, Ian Martin, has termed the formation of the interim government a key moment for the consolidation of the peace process. He also welcomed the commitment to create an environment conducive to holding the CA elections. At this time, with about two and a half months until the CA elections, clearly these laurels must be first earned. And this should also be the attitude of the international community.

If the CA elections are truly 'free and fair', then in that case political pundits predict a total rout of the Maoists. In such a scenario, what tricks have they up their sleeves? Surely they are not going to sacrifice over a decade of armed struggle and real political power now, only to be relegated to the dustbin of history by a democratic exercise which they in their hearts of hearts neither accept nor truly respect. Let us hope that they do not remember 'their' Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin: "Those who cast the votes, they decide nothing. Those who count the votes, they decide everything."

The Maoist supremo has gone on record to make a Delphic pronouncement; namely that the 'new Nepal' could not be built on the foundation of the old culture entrenched in the present establishment. The Maoists frequently disrupt sessions of the interim parliament whenever developments do not go their way. And only a week after the Gaur incident, Maoists and activists of the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF) clashed again, this time in Rupendehi district. Just because they are part of the government, they cannot be treated with impunity and no one seriously believes they have surrendered all their weapons. In this context, what are we to make of interior minister Sitaula's announcement that the government would take legal action against individuals, groups, organizations or political parties found possessing, carrying or displaying arms after

April 8?

The path that the Nepalese nation will take in the next weeks and where it will lead mainly depends on the extent it will be possible to maintain unity and the political smallest common denominator between the seven parties and the Maoists. It seems a high hope that the mere inclusion in this transitional government will make the latter act more responsibly.

It is astounding that the political parties in power have decided to amend the 'constitution' to introduce the vacuous clause that the King could be 'removed' by a two-thirds majority if he was found to sabotage/conspire against the CA elections. In such a case, is it only the King who is to be removed, or the monarchy itself? If it is only the King, who is to follow him? What exactly does he have to do to be found sabotaging or conspiring against the CA elections? Who or which institution will determine that he engaged in sabotage or conspiracy?

Or are these parties with their vested interests preparing a back-door to abolish the monarchy in one sweep without waiting for the results of the CA elections? As things now stand, even if the King keeps silent, and other parties and organizations canvass for the monarchy, it will be rather easy to implicate him. The parties in power can point their own fingers at monarchist, royalist and feudal elements. There is definitely something foul going on, especially since the country does not even have an acting head-of-state.

Finally, it should not be forgotten that the Nepalese are a very superstitious people, and it remains to be seen whether a government installed on the international fool's day is fooling the people outright (after all one can fool all of the people some of the time!), or in fact, the people will have the last laugh.


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