Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Background: Nepal 1768- Elections 2008

This is a talk i did for a Sydney DSP meeting a few weeks ago.

Summarises the history of Nepal, from its very beggining through to the elections held this year.

Very brief, and vague in different sections. Hope this can be of use to people!

The modern nation of Nepal came into being when in 1768 the Kathmandu Valley and surrounding areas was conquered by the royal Shah Dynasty and foundered the Kingdom of the Gurkhas. Nepal continued to grow through military conquest throughout the late 18th century. This was also the time where another power in the region was rapidly growing, being the British East India Company. These two powers inevitably came into conflict, and the result was the 1814-16 Gorkha War, where the Nepalese were soundly defeated by the technologically superior British. In 1816 the Segauli Treaty between the British and the Nepalese monarchy came into affect, in which Nepal had to forfeit large portions of land, especially along the agricultural areas known as the Terai.
From this point on Nepal has been a semi-colonial "protectorate" of foreign Imperialists, with the Monarchy playing the role as the local ruler in the interests of either London, or more recently, New Delhi. After the 1816 war and embarrassment, the Royal court degenerated into factionalism and instability, which came to a head in 1846 when there was an overthrow of the Shahs. While the Shah monarchy remained in place it lost all but ceremonial power to the rival Rana family. This arrangement continued for roughly the next hundred years.
In the 1940’s a democratic movement built up, heavily influenced by the Indian Democracy and Independence movement of the same time. The Nepalese monarchy had adopted a policy of isolation and was largely successful in keeping foreign influences from entering Nepal. However they were not successful in stopping Nepalese from a relatively privileged background escaping into and embracing these outside influences. In 1947 the Nepali Congress (NC) party was formed and they launched an armed uprising in 1950. At the same time, the ceremonial Shah family, saw this as their opportunity to regain their power and influence, and they monarch and his family fled their "palace prison" to India. This uprising called for an election to a constituent assembly to write a new democratic constitution, but this was not to happen. In 1951 an agreement, known as the “Delhi Compromise” was forged between the Nepali Congress, the Shah Monarchy and the ruling Rana's to create an interim government, to rule until an election to a constituent assembly could be organized. The Rana's were too discredited from their brutal rule to return, but over the next few years the King used his reinstated powers to slowly weaken the democratic forces, and the NC never really pushed for an election. In 1959 the King issued a new constitution which left all power with the monarchy, and almost none in parliament, and announced elections to this new impotent parliament later that year. While the NC won the elections easily, the first Royal parliament would last only a limited time, when in 1962 the King dissolved the parliament and replaced it with a “party less” system called “panchayat”, which would govern Nepal in the interests of the royals for the next three decades.
In the late 1980's a period of regroupment occurred within the Nepalese left, and the democratic movement was able to put aside differences. This resulted in the United Left Front, a union of most of leftist parties of Nepal and the ability for the United Left Front to work with the Nepali congress for the democratic Cause. 1990 the democratic movement rose again in the form of “Jana Andolan”, which translates as “the people’s movement”. Nepal erupted. All aspects of society came out on the streets and the king was forced by this movement, to relinquish power again to a constitutional monarchy, with multiparty democracy. The United Left Front went onto forge the CPN(UML)
Again there were calls for a constituent assembly, the removal of the King from power and a truly democratic Nepal. A range of reforms including land reform and poverty alleviation programs were never introduced, the king was retained as head of state, and this new "democracy" descended into bureaucratic and stable infighting and was completely useless.
Over the same period a series of unifications and regroupments occurred within the far left, (left of the UML) which resulted in the Communist Party Nepal (Maoist). Initially this party participated in the electoral process, with some initial success, but it almost immediately began its preparations for an armed struggle.
On February 4th1996, Babburam Bhattarai on the behalf of the CPN(M) presented a list of 40 demands to the prime minister, and announced that unless action was taken that a “Peoples War” the Maoists would launch a people’s war, which they did on February 13. The 40 demands was to become the Maoists manifesto, and centered around the right to healthcare, education, better conditions for rural Nepalese, and end to the caste system and discrimination against women and minorities, and for elections to a constituent assembly to set up a federal democratic republic. Initially, this insurgency was small and localized to the Nations western hills, but was able to slowly gain some level of popular support due to the failure of the government to help the rural poor. Then when the government started trying to crack down on the rebels, or those perceived to be rebel sympathizers, the heavy handed responses further stirred unrest and the Maoist influence grew.
2001 was a momentous year. Firstly the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) held a National Conference, which resulted in the formal adoption of what they term “Prachanda Path”. “Prachanda Path” seems to be, not a departure from Maoism, but an elaboration on Maoism. While the CPN(M) is definitely a Maoist organization, they definitely maintain a criticism of aspects of Maoism, and especially Stalinism, which was spelled out in “Prachanda Path”. At any rate “Prachanda Path” laid the basis for divisions within the international Maoist Movement, which came to a head over the next few years and ended with a split in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, which is/was the major Maoist international.
The second big event in 2001 involved the Royal Family. The Nepali crown prince, while drunk and stoned, shot his parents (the king), his brothers and a large portion of the royal family after an argument, and then shot himself. Naturally this drastically undermined the support and respect for the royal family, and the government. Finally, 2001 saw the terrorist attacks in the US. The Nepali government’s response to this was the jump on the terrorist bandwagon and declare the CPN(M) as a terrorist organization, and then declare a state of emergency which severely curtailed civil rights, the freedom of the press.
The new king, one of the remaining royals Gyanendra, began consolidating power in his own hands. In 2002 he dismissed the Parliament, and directly appointed governments, usually from royalist parties. On February 1st 2005 he dismissed the entire government and took all authority. Gyanendra then used the Royal Nepalese Army, fresh with training and weapons from the United States and the UK, to unleash a wave of violence and destruction against the population deemed to be supporting the Maoists.
At this point the insurgency exploded, and the Maoists, despite massive military presence, were able to expand and fight off the military. By late 2005, the Maoists had effective control of 80% of the nation, and the government had little control outside of Kathmandu the capitol, and a few larger provincial cities (but even these were susceptible to attack).
In late 2005 the Maoists controlling 80% of the nation, decided to blockade the capitol Kathmandu. As the king and government were coming under more pressure, the political groups that were members of the now dissolved parliament formed the Seven Party Alliance (SPA). The leaders of the SPA and the CPN(M) opened a dialogue which came to the “12 point agreement”. Within this framework, the CPN(M) committed to multiparty democracy and freedom of speech, while the SPA adopted the Maoists calls for elections to create a new constitution.
Together the SPA and the CPN(M) agitated for a boycott of the 2006 February 8 local elections. A series of waves of arrests of political activist was launched by the royal government, but the SPA/CPN(M) effort was successful with less than 20% participation in the polls.
This led to “Jana Andolan II” or the second people’s movement. Inspired by this, the SPA, in conjunction with the CPN(M) called what was initially intended to be a 4 day strike from April 5-9 2006, which brought the nation to a halt. On April 8, the government ordered a curfew, with orders that protesters to be shot on sight. On April 9, the SPA announced that the strike would continue indefinitely. Prachanda threatened to personally enter Kathmandu and lead the protests. The government responded by again trying to enforce its curfew. On April 21, after 14 days of massive street protests (involving as many as 500,000 people at any one time just in Kathmandu) the king relinquished power back to the SPA, and asked the SPA to designate a new Prime Minister.
Some political commentators refer to the 2006 movement as the “democracy movement” and only the events 1990 as “the people’s movement”, but I think it’s important to see this as the same struggle. 1990 and 2006 saw the same demands, the only difference being that in 2006, unlike in 1990, there was a strong and principled force (the Maoists) that was determined enough to see the changes through.
Jana Andolan 2 was the real transition of power. While the King was only officially removed this year, after the Jana Andolan 2 he was stripped from all power and it really was just a matter of time. Jana Andolan 2 ended Nepal as the world knew it. It wiped the slate clean and took everything back to square one. The Struggle since 2006 and the Jana Andolan 2 has been on what the new Nepal will look like.
Prior to the elections this year CPN(Maoist) did not initially join the interim government. The SPA went back on its previous promises and did not immediately call for elections to a new constitutional assembly, but said that elections should simply be held for the previously existing parliament, and a parliamentary committee would draft a new constitution. The Maoists insisted on a new body to constitute a new republican state but under Maoist pressure, the SPA was forced to give into these demands. This caused the elections to the Constituent Assembly to be delayed.
A second delay was caused by arguments over the form of the Constituent assembly elections. The SPA including the NC and the UML initially argued that the elections would be held with just electorates on a first past the post basis as had historically been the case. The Maoists however demanded a direct proportional representation system. This was especially important was the former system had been used by the Nepali political elites in Kathmandu and the Hill regions of Nepal, to oppress the peoples of the southern Terai Plains. People in the Terai make up 40-50% of the population of Nepal, but had never received more than 15-20% of the representation in a Nepalese parliament. A compromise solution was resolved where 240 seats would be on the basis of the first past the post, 335 seats would be awarded on the basis of direct proportional representation and then 26 seats would be given by the government to any minority groups that were not represented or under represented in the assembly.
After 2 delays the elections where finally held on April 10 of this year.
Despite some tension the elections were held in a generally free and fair atmosphere. People were free to cast their vote. The results show a massive victory to the Maoists, who polled about 30% of the vote and will make up 36% of the seats in the Constituent Assembly. While this isn’t an absolute majority, it’s more than 15% more seats then any other party, and they polled more than a million votes more than their nearest competitors.

Nepalese Maoists set ambitious targets in budget

as seen in Green Left Weekly
Nepalese Maoists set ambitious targets in budget
Nepal’s finance minister and member of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) Dr Baburam Bhattarai announced the first budget of the Republic of Nepal.
The monster 236 billion rupee (AU$3.9 billion) budget is 39.7% larger than the total allocation for the previous fiscal year. The Maoist-led government hopes to raise the extra funds by reducing corruption, as well as increasing revenue from tourism and foreign aid. Bhattarai announced a series of programs aimed at increasing education and health care and increasing employment opportunities. Central to these programs are the “Be Literate: Build New Nepal” and the “New Nepal: Healthy Nepal” programs. The literacy program aims to eradicate illiteracy in Nepal within two years. According to the UN figures, Nepal’s adult literacy rate is below 50%; the level of illiteracy is worse among women. New schools and university campuses are planned, particularly in remote and rural areas where the bulk of Nepalese live. Education will be free up to secondary level with free daily meals up to Grade 5, free education for all up to Grade 10 and free for poor and oppressed peoples up to Grade 12. The “New Nepal: Healthy Nepal” program aims to provide free health care to all Nepalese. Investment will be made to repair damage done to the health-care system during the 10 year war that ended in 2006, and health-care facilities will be increased with the eventual goal of extending health-care facilities into the villages. A free maternity services program will also be set up, which is significant given Nepal’s horrendously high infant mortality rate of 62 deaths per thousand (Australia’s is 4.82 deaths per thousand). An ambitious road building program is planned, with the intention of up all districts of Nepal within two years. (At present large portions of Nepal are inaccessible except by foot.) As well there are plans for another international and more regional airports to help increase tourism. Nepal’s water resources will be better utilised, with plans to provide widespread and quality irrigation to increase agricultural output, and an ambitious target has been set by the government to generate 10,000 megawatts of electricity from hydroelectric plants by 2020. The new government also plans to encourage communities to set up cooperative shops and cooperative agricultural projects to spur local development and local, community-owned economies. A new parliament building will also be built in Kathmandu and monuments will be built to commemorate the Jana Andolan or People’s Movement that brought about the fall of the Hindu monarchy and the creation of the secular Republic of Nepal. The opponents of the Maoist-led government have criticised the budget as too ambitious and too reliant on foreign capital. The Nepali Congress has led attacks on the budget in the constituent assembly and the media. However, Bhattarai argued during his budget speech: “We are now in the process of making a great leap forward from one era to another … there is always a risk involved in such a move … We can never reach the destination unless we aim high.”

Monday, September 22, 2008

Prachanda to Meet with Cuban VP, Visit Karl Marx's birthplace.

From KantipurOnline.


PM Dahal to visit Marx’s birthplace
Kantipur Report
KATHMANDU, Sept 21 - During his 28-hour stopover in Germany en route to New York, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal will take a two-and-half-hour drive to Traier to visit the birthplace of Karl Marx, whose writings have inspired communist revolutions all over the world, officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
The house where Marx was born in 1818 was turned into the Museum-Karl-Marx-Haus in 1947 by Germany's Social Democratic Party.
The museum houses a study centre with 80,000 volumes including the works of Marx and the spectrum of his reading, the history of socialism, the history of the socialist and workers' movement as well as the social and economic history of the 19th century.
"The exhibition in the Museum-Karl-Marx-Haus will inform you: about the person Karl Marx, his life, his work, his allies and his adversaries," according to the website of the museum. "Account is also given, for the first time, of the history of his influence which extends from the end of the nineteenth century up to present, thus
encompassing the entire panorama of the twentieth century."
While in Frankfurt he will also release a book in German whose title translates in English as Revolution in Nepal, one of the officials accompanying the prime minister said.
In New York Prime Minister Kamal Dahal is scheduled to meet four presidents, one vice president, two heads of government and representatives of the US and Russia, according to the program made public by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Besides attending a dinner and tea reception hosted by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Dahal will also have a meeting with him the day before he leaves New York.
He will attend a reception hosted by US President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush.
Foreign ministry sources say that there is no separate meeting scheduled with Bush.
"Bush only meets very important world leaders during the General Assembly," a Ministry of Foreign Affairs source said.
Ex-king Gyanendra had made preparations to attend the UN General Assembly in 2005 after he took over executive powers, but decided not to go after he was not invited by Bush for the reception traditionally hosted for world leaders on the eve of the General Assembly.
The presidents Dahal is scheduled meet are the Sri Lankan, Swiss, Turkish and Serbian presidents. He will meet the Cuban vice president and the heads of government of Bnagladesh and Mongolia.
"The Turkish president requested a meeting with our prime minister and we could not refuse," said a source. "There was also a request from Cuba for a meeting with its vice president."
The meeting with the Swiss president was mutually arranged, he said.
Dahal will also meet Minister for International Development of Norway Erik Solheim and US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Richard Boucher. Both are frequent visitors to Nepal. While Solheim was here the day Dahal was sworn in as prime minister, Boucher last visited here in 2006.
The Russian foreign minister, who is leading his country's delegation to the UN General Assembly, will also meet the Nepali prime minister.
Dahal is also scheduled to give a talk at the India China Institute of the New School University on the topic "A Maoist Vision for New Nepal" and a talk at the Asia Society titled "A New Nepal: Challenges for Enduring Peace and Democracy".
While Kul Chandra Gautam, former assistant secretary general of the United Nations will moderate the former, Tamrat Samuel, former deputy special representative of the UN Secretary-General to UNMIN, will moderate the latter.
He is also scheduled to participate in a BBC world debate on the Millennium Development Goals and give an interview to CNN.
In between he will go on a half-day tour of the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, where the twin towers of the World Trade Centre were located, and the financial capital of the world, according to the published programme for the New York visit.
No programmes are scheduled for the prime minister for September 28 when he will leave New York in the evening.

Monday, September 15, 2008

INTERVIEW- Dipak Sapkota; Assistant editor of the Red Star

Dipak Sapkota is the Assitant Editor of The Red Star, which is a progressive english language paper based in Nepal. The Lal Salam blog talked with Dipak and he answered our questions about the radical changes happening in Nepal.

Lal Salam: Nepal is currently going through a very radical time of change, with the declaration of the republic and the abolition of the monarchy. What is the atmosphere like on the streets of Nepal in this time of great changes?
Dipak Sapkota- Yes, as you said, Nepal is going through very historical changes. People celebrated with huge enthusiasm the declaration of Republic. On 28th May, people in the capital city organised rallies and gathered outside the constituent assembly to hear the declaration of Republic. The government announced holiday for three days to celebrate the Republic. People now hope a lot from the first government after the Republic. But at the same time we are suffering from acute fuel shortage and inflation that is hampering our happiness.

LS: The Monarchy has been abolished, but the King remains in the country. Is there any possibility of the Monarchy returning, are there any royalists forces left in Nepal?
Sapkota- The possibility of the Monarchy returning is very less. The king was so infamous and he is not a politically strong man. He was a businessman and he still holds his business. So he may not dare to re-establish monarchy. There is a very small force who still advocate the monarchy. There are only four members out of 601 in the constituent assembly from the Royalist party.

LS: While the monarchy was only officially abolished this year, it lost the majority of its powers in the 2006 Democracy Movement when millions protested in the streets. What was it like during that movement? What was the feeling in the people during that movement?
Sapkota- The People's movement in 2006 was a joint attempt of CPN-Maoist and seven parliamentary parties. The 12-point understanding made on November 2005 was the main inspiration of the movement. People wanted to get rid of Monarchy as well as they had also wanted peace and progress in the country. 21 people were killed during the movement in the cities.

LS: In the corporate media a lot is made of the Young Communist League. Could you tell me more about the young Communist League and the role they are playing in Nepal today?
Sapkota- The League was a semi-military organisation before the Maoist armed movement started in 1996. Many revolution-aspirant youths joined this organisation. Later during the armed movement People's Liberation Army came into existence. The League was overshadowed. After the Maoist agreed on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in November 2006, PLA started to stay in 28 different temporary cantonments. But there were no provisions for thousands of Militias. So the League was again reactivated that organised the militias and youths who joined Maoist at that time. In the past YCL engaged in building roads, controlling crimes, distribution of drinking water in cities, control the frauds at manpower agencies, traffic management, and youth awareness. Now they are busy in collective farming, working for solving the problems of education and unemployment.

LS: The corporate media characterises the YCL as the "young criminals league" and there are many allegations of criminal or violent activities. Is there truth behind the claims of intimidation and violence?
Sapkota- This is the matter of class. The corporate media serves the interests of elite class of Nepal. That means they see the League as the criminals. The activists 'arrested' some most infamous corruptors and handed to the police, that was 'intimidation' and 'violence' for corporate media.

LS: During the Peoples War and the state of emergency enforced by the then Royal Government there were many limitations brought against freedom of speech and the press. What was it like to act as a journalist under those conditions?
Sapkota- Yes, the then Royal Government imposed many restrictions against freedom of speech and the press. They especially attacked the progressive journalists. More than 25 journalists were killed by the state and about 200 arrested during the conflict. There were dangers of being killed by the state at any time.

LS: The progressive press in Nepal often talks of Krishna Sen. Who was he?
Sapkota- He was one of the senior-most progressive journalist in Nepal. He was an editor of a progressive daily 'Janadisha' at the time he was arrested. The police killed him in the custody by torturing him a lot. He was also a revolutionary poet, a soft spoken man and highly respected among the left in Nepal.

LS: There is much talk in he mainstream media about the "authoritarian" tendencies of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) and the media expresses concerns for the freedom of the press. Prachanda was said to have threaded certain media outlets earlier this year. As a journalist, is freedom of speech under threat in Nepal?
Sapkota- This is very common allegation to the left and the revolutionary forces in the world. The Nepali press enjoys a lot of freedom and facilities. The present government is not sole Maoist government. The Maoists have assured multi-party competition and they have time and again expressed their commitment for the freedom of press. Prachanda had not threatened the press but he had requested the media to be serious about the nation before they write.

LS: What role are women playing in the changes in Nepal? What are the conditions like for women in Nepal and are there any signs of improvement?
Sapkota- Woman play a vital role in the change in Nepal. The participation of the women in the People's war was surprising. About 40 percent in the People's Liberation Army were women. Likewise the participation of the women in the movement 2006 was also significant. Now there is about 33 percent women participation in the Constituent Assembly as the result of People's War and people's movement. The present condition of women varies in cities and villages. Women enjoy quite a lot of economical, social and educational rights in the cities whereas in the villages women live in worse condition in terms of all these issues.

LS: Nepal is home to a range of oppressed nationalities, castes or religious groups. What role are these groups playing in the changes in Nepal, and are there signs of improvement for them?
Sapkota- Yes, Nepal is home of range of nationalities, castes and religious groups. These groups are now struggling to institutionalise their rights in the new constitution either through the Constituent Assembly or various activities. They have proportional participation in the Constituent Assembly and the cabinet as well as various government bodies. These groups are enjoying reservation in the civil service, political appointment and they will soon have in security sector too. They are having significant benefits but the advantage is not reaching to the lowest level within these groups too.

LS: The elections to the constituent assembly this year were historic. What was the atmosphere during the elections? Was there any intimidation or fear?
Sapkota- Nepal had the election of the constituent assembly for the first time in Nepal. Nepal waited it for more than 60 years. The participation of the voters was more than 60 percent in the election. The election was like the celebration. Many corporate media reported 'intimidation' and 'fear' but it was not like that. Some parliamentary party leaders who had betrayed the people in the past faced the bitter reaction from the people in the election, some were even chased from the villages.

LS: The changes in Nepal are dramatic and have only been won after years of hard work. What role are youth playing in the political process in Nepal?
Sapkota- The participation of the youth in the People's War and People's Movement was the decisive factor for their success. The 30 thousands strong People's Liberation Army had more than 98 percent youths. More than 60 percent were between 18-25 age group. There are more than eight students unions who are affiliated with different political parties. Likewise four youth organisations who also organise youths for movements and awareness. The youths of Nepal, may be, are the most political conscious youths in the world.

LS: Where do you see Nepal going? Where do you think Nepal will be in the future?
Sapkota- Nepal is still at the crossroad. The Maoist, who lead the government is trying to start a campaign for economic progress and political transformation. But some parliamentary parties are trying hard to foil the government. Nepal needs stability and steady economic progress. As well as the republic should be institutionalised and must be people's oriented. Nepali people hope for a better future.