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Drifting Aimlessly: Loktantra In Doldrums

Drifting Aimlessly: Loktantra In Doldrums

By Shashi Malla

With celebrations marking the first anniversary of Jan Andolan II (or as some might say the end of King Gyanendra's rule), at the beginning of this week authorities had urged residents to illuminate their homes for three days. In his message to the Nepalese people on the occasion of the first "Democracy Day", PM Koirala made the tall claim that the achievements made exactly one year back had reached record heights, "democratic practice" had been established and could "never be usurped". However, the confusion about the date of CA elections, the violent campaign for autonomy in the Terai, doubts over the sincerity of the 'former' Maoist rebels and a weak government result in Nepal remaining at a crossroads with many challenges ahead.

Under the present 8-party government, the country is not moving forward as expected by the people, and promised by those in power. It is day by day showing its weaknesses in all sectors. The Maoist minister for Information and Communications, Krishna Bahadur Mahara has already accused the non-Maoist led ministries of non-cooperation, and even of disruption of their regular work by the political appointees.

US ambassador, James F. Moriarty, said in Biratnagar, South-Eastern Nepal that the peace process would not be successful as long as violence and terror prevail in the country. The government has failed abjectly in making a breakthrough in the Terai/Madhesi imbroglio. Bandhs and violent clashes are the order of the day. Baluwatar (the PM's official residence) is making no headway at all in the various crises facing the country.

In an exemplary report, the UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal has now held the state apparatus, the Maoists and the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF) all responsible for the blood-bath sometime back in Gaur. In a most damaging manner, the report highlighted the weaknesses of the law enforcement agencies (the Chief District Officer, Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force) which were "grossly ill-prepared" in spite of being aware of the grave possible developments. In any other normal country, this would be reason enough for the home minister to resign. However, all the accused parties have shielded themselves behind a wall of silence.

Of course the Maoists have not stopped their intimidation, threats and acts of vandalism. The Maoists and their Young Communist League (YCL) have become a law unto themselves. Their continued extortion of businesses is counter-productive to any efforts of regaining the confidence of investors, domestic and abroad. Recently, it has been reported that they have seized assets belonging to the King to "utilize them for the benefit of the people".

The situation is even worse for law-abiding citizens. They cannot hope for justice from interior minister and Maoist sympathizer Sitaula. The Maoist strategy of weakening the state structure (previously from outside, now from within) continues unabated. The victims of the Maoists' 11-year People's War have not received any succor. Thousands are waiting still for the return of their looted land, property, jewellery and cash. In the meantime the interim (now probably permanent) government and the constituent political parties leave no stone unturned to honour the "martyrs" of last year's April agitation, while the families of the 14,000 dead in the Maoists' killing terraces remain totally forgotten. With the grievances of so many not being addressed, civic sense is rapidly dwindling away.

The so-called interim parliament is dysfunctional. Its proceedings are a travesty of democratic and parliamentary norms. There is no respect for democratic behaviour. Only last week, a Madhesi MP, Hirdayesh Tripathi and the Maoist MPs disrupted the orderly working of the legislature by raising slogans and forcefully preventing parliamentary business. At this rate, concerned citizens should be asking themselves about the necessity of such a body. It is being used by disgruntled groups and parties to vent their views in an aggressive manner, similar to people burning tyres on the streets for every little personal and group grievances.

All of these antics show that the presence of a parliament is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for democracy. Where the parliament should be promoting due democratic process, it promotes anarchy. If it fails to set an example for behaviour along democratic rules and due process of law, how can the people be expected to refrain from anarchy?, dwindling away.

The people at the top are only interested in holding on to power. Also last week, much was made of the fact that for the first time, PM Girija Prasad Koirala "made history" by receiving the credentials of new Chinese ambassador, Zheng Xiangling in the State Hall of Singha Durbar and not the King as head of state in Narayanhiti Durbar. Unfortunately, like everything that Koirala does (or the men and women behind him) there is no respect for the rule of law.

He has "abolished" the role of the monarchy through the back door, without the people's mandate and without waiting for the results of a referendum or the decision of the Constituent Assembly (CA). His foreign policy lies in tatters, and his administration has not yet been able to appoint envoys to the still vacant embassies. Not surprisingly, our image has sunk to a new low in the international arena. All in all, Koirala is a consummate wheeler-dealer. Perhaps this is skill required in politics, but this makes him neither a statesman nor a Nepalese patriot.

At the same time, the Maoists and the other Communist parties that represent the second political force majeure are now attempting to forge an alliance. Maoist supreme Prachanda has demanded that they are in favour of only one Communist party in Nepal. Rhoderick Chalmers of the International Crisis Group opined that the Maoists' strength was not in their weapons, but in the militarization of the political process. He continued that it was crucial to encourage the Maoists to stop using fear as a political strategy. Given that the Maoists certainly have not locked away all the weapons for UN monitoring that they have been required to lock away, the fact that these weapons are still used to intimidate people and the fact that these 'unaccounted for' weapons are an ace up Comrade Prachanda's sleeve invalidates the first part of this statement in the view of the authors. That the political process has been militarized by the Maoists is a sad truth and can be seen at most sittings of the parliament. Unfortunately, the means that could have enticed the Maoists to renounce violence and fear as their main political driver have all been wasted.

For the sake of argument, even if we were to accept the violent agitation of last April with massive Maoist inputs as a so-called people's movement (and serious and independent observers very much doubt this theory), then why are the eight governing parties keeping quiet about their inability to hold the CA-elections on time ? Were the monarchists and reactionaries so powerful, all things considered? After all, this was supposed to be a major aspect of the people's aspirations and a principal demand of the much vaunted Jan Andolan II.

Although the country is in the throes of a major political crisis, the cancellation is now being conveniently swept under the carpet. Interior minister, Krishna Prasad Sitaula the main architect of the alliance with the Maoists has already gone on record to state that the declaration of a democratic republic by the unelected parliament is already on the anvils. Previously, it was said that this would be the case if the King "conspired" to "thwart" the CA-polls. Perhaps Pradip Giri, a leader of the Nepali Congress (Democratic) was correct when he suggested that the postponement of the CA-elections shows that these were never meant to be held at all! Such is the devious way of thinking of the ruling alliance.

Concerned and enlightened citizens must now urgently ask themselves as to how long they are willing to accept the fundamental flaws in the present political system. The time is long past where we can tolerate the grave deviations from democratic norms. It can be safely assumed that unless Nepal gets rid of "Koiralaism", and the present government/parliament is replaced by those truly committed to democratic norms and the supremacy of the people, there will be no progress in the country. A genuine people's movement with the nation's interests at the heart is the need of the hour.


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