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.

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