Monday, February 20, 2017

Yubaraj Ghimire - Nepal: A fragile peace

Every political actor and power centre seems to agree that the country needs to be rescued from the mess it is in. And each one has a cure ready, but for the others. No one seems willing to introspect. Narayankaji Shrestha, vice-chairman of the ruling CPN (Maoist Centre), met several Indian leaders in Delhi - Ram Madhav (BJP) to Sitaram Yechury (CPM) - last week to tell them that “Indian interference in Nepal’s internal politics must stop, and let Nepalis run their own politics”. In a way, he was blaming India for the prolonged transition towards a constitutional republic and most things - from politics to the economy - going wrong in Nepal. But he also subtly warned Indian “friends” that more political mess ups will bring the monarchy back.

The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists, a splinter group of the Maoist movement, led by Netra Bikram Chand aka “Biplab” is currently holding its “secret national convention” in far-west Rolpa, which is likely to announce a “parallel” government and insurgency, something the Maoists did between 1996 and 2006. Over 17,000 people died in the conflict.

Meanwhile, the dethroned king, Gyanendra Shah, who of late has been issuing appeals to the public “to make the leaders accountable for things going wrong and save the country”, set out on a two-week trip to Madhesh to assess public mood and the possibility of monarchy’s return, giving credence to the fear that Shrestha expressed in Delhi.

Parallel to these developments, Rastriya Prajatantra Party, a unified version of different pro-Hindutva groups, held its first “unity conference” and left it for the national meet to decide whether Nepal’s status as a Hindu kingdom must be restored. In the ancient Janakpur city, India’s former ambassador to Nepal, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, said Thursday in a seminar attended by leaders from the Madhesh region that democracy can not be institutionalised in Nepal until and unless Madheshi issues are addressed.

Immediate amendment to the constitution giving a larger share of seats to Madhesh in local bodies, provincial and federal legislature as demanded is being resented by the main opposition, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist. The CPN-UML wants the local bodies poll to held by the end of May, without amending the constitution. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal will have to decide by next week whose side he wants to take. In the meantime, routine administrative issues like who should be appointed the new police chief is dividing the Nepali Congress, the biggest party in the ruling coalition.

Valerie Julliand, UN resident coordinator, met Prime Minister Dahal Thursday, and expressed her dissatisfaction over adequate powers not being given to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate alleged human right excesses committed by the state and the Maoists during the conflict. She also gave clear hints that any move to withdraw the “heinous crimes” against any side of the conflict will be against the practices that the UN believes in.

In the midst of all these political developments, Nepal’s economy is showing signs of unprecedented downslide. A 400 billion trade deficit in the first half of the financial year and a banking system facing a liquidity crunch, which has forced the real estate business to grind to a halt, have the potential to fuel further mass fury and discontent. People may not care whether there is an election, but the government and the political forces will be forced to account for their failures. A strong political will and a serious effort is called for from the government to deal with the situation, which is nowhere in sight. None of the political actors have expressed willingness to introspect or own up responsibility for the state’s failures.

Politics continues to be largely power-driven, with principles and ideologies pushed to the backseat. The Maoists are trying to forge an understanding with the main opposition, UML, to stay afloat should the Nepali Congress withdraw support. However, what seals the fate of these parties as well as the current constitution is a mandatory provision in the document which says the federal parliament shall cease to exist on January 21, 2018, and a fresh House, provincial legislature and local bodies elected before that. With so many disagreements among parties, the chances of the country missing the 2018 deadline are real.

However, there have been no serious attempts to bring all the stake holders, especially the parties and forces that expressed reservation over the way power and the constitution-making process has been monopolised by certain groups in the past decade, together. The peace process and political changes manifested in the constitution both remain fragile. The renewed threat by a splinter Maoist group to revive insurgency is a clear proof of that.