Thursday, May 21, 2009

Democracy, The "Democrats" and the LTTE- Big Risks in the Future of Nepal's Republic.

The stalemate of sorts continues.

The Maoists refuse to let the constitution be cast aside and the military be put above civilian rule and the "Democratic Alliance" refuses to back down and insists they have thwarted an attempt by the Maoists to "capture the state and establish a one party authoritarian dictatorship".

The assembly has not been able to conduct business since May 4th with the Maoist lawmakers disrupting the sittings by chanting slogans and blockading the rostrum. Outside the assembly, the Maoists have turned to the streets, with daily rallies and protests, culminating with a 300,000+ rally on the 17th in Kathmandu, with smaller programs in other major cities across the country. Even these massive showings of popular support however were not enough to budge the "Democrats" who have retreated behind the media to scream to all that they only have the interests of the country in mind. Despite this judging by the turnout to the mass rallies, the people aren't convinced.

The "Democratic Alliance" is the alliance between the CPN(UML) and the Congress, plus an array of smaller parties ranging from hardcore royalists, to ethnic chauvinists, to smaller parties on the hard left. Because of this the "Democratic Alliance" is riddled with limitations and contradictions. Firstly- it has no political basis at all. To get a majority the opposition has had to cobble together a whopping coalition of 22 different parties. While some try to champion this as a step forward and a government of consensus, the fact of the matter is that there is no political basis for this coalition at all. If this coalition does form government, it will by definition be totally incapable. There is no common, or even predominant position on any issue, and Nepal has many issues to overcome. Federalism, state restructuring, economic growth, the new Constitution, the monarchy, Hinduism and secularism, the peace process and the army integration issue. This government simply cannot function, as it is dependant on both far left and far right parties with contradtictory objectives and visions.

The one common point for this coalition is that they are not the Maoists. But this raises the question- how can they be a "democratic alliance" when it is created to intentionally exclude the party that won the elections. This is made even more ridiculous when their candidate for Prime Minister is Madhav Kumar Nepal who was beaten in the First past the post section of the Constituent Assembly elections not once but twice. Both times he was beaten by Maoists- who are now excluded from the government!

It should be clear that this opposition coalition is anything but democratic- without mentioning that they actively supported the unconstitutional moves of the president to protect a General who has been quoted as saying "enlightened despotism is preferable to chaotic democracy; the masses require protection from themselves." (General Katawal- October 2002). It would be laughable if it wasn't so serious.

But Nepal doesn't exist in a vacuum, and world events will inevitably affect the situation in Nepal s well. Some recent events from the south have given those in power a new found courage and confidence to push on to protect their place and privileges in Nepali society from that great unwashed horde that is the Maoist movement. Interference from the south is nothing new in Nepal, but this time I am not referring to India, but rather the recent events in Sri Lanka/Tamil Elam with the demise of the LTTE.

For three decades the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam waged a national liberation struggle in the North and East of that country, and at its height controlled vast parts of the country and ran in essence a parallel state. This has recently all come to an end however after a massive military campaign by the Sri Lankan government the LTTE has now been defeated. While most of the world is looking at this situation and seeing the horriffic bloodbath and humanitarian crisis that it has caused, the elite look to the destruction of the LTTE (and often the destruction of the Tamils) and see inspiration for their own political problems.

Now that the elite are trapped in a peace process and constituion writing process that they cant control- they are desperately looking for ways to get out of it, or alter it to tilt the balance of power back in their favour. Now that they are close to getting governmen they will first attempt to redefine the interim constitution and the peace process. This can be seen with the congress already calling for the Peoples Liberation Army to be reverified and its number reduced to 4,000. When they cant do this, they will move outside of the consituion (like with the Presidents move) and in light of the demise of the LTTE are now more confident that should they need too they can crush this "maoist problem".

Thus the Maoists are facing a steep task- with very real risks on the road ahead.

The first and for most objective of the Maoists at this point is too protect democracy, the peace process and the interim constitution. All of the political parties came to the agreements, and after winning the elections they have the right to lead the way in he creation of the New Nepal. To defend the Constitution and the peace process is to defend the revolution.

It is very important for the Maoists to resist provocation. The ruling elite have been trying to provoke the Maoists to withdraw from the peace process and the assembly. It is very important that they do not so so, firstly because the peace and the constitution writing process is very popular, and if they walked away from that, then the public would leave them in droves. Secondly after winning the elections they are inherently have the political legitimacy, and when it is the opposition that has to go outside of the constitution to achieve its shady ends, then public support floods to the revolutionary pole.

Defending the constituion and the process will be no easy feat. Within the parliament the Maoists have disrupted the assembly for two weeks in protest. However they are likely to end this disruption shortly to try and pass a binding resolution that the presidents actions were unconstitutional and must be revoked. On the street the protests have been getting larger and larger, the peak so far has been the May 17th rallies of 300,000 in Kathmandu. They will continue, and maybe even get bigger, until the civilian supremacy over the military and the supremacy of the Constitution is restored. There is even rumours of a banda (general strike).

At any rate- the same contradictions are still in play. The situation in its fundamentals is unchanged. But something that has changed in the last two weeks, is where public support lies, and that's with the Maoists. So far problems are not being resolved but in fact becoming more polarised. People are getting angrier at what has happened to their democracy and the peace process- and the final result of this is yet to be seen.

3 comments:

Benjamin Rosenzweig said...

Hi Ben, I was wondering if you could mention which 'hard left' parties are in this 'Democratic' bloc? I'm hoping it doesn't include the Workers and Peasants Party, despite their participation in the seven/eight-party alliance - but I guess I wouldn't be shocked. And I really hope it doesn't include those in that recent split from Prachanda's party which was reported to include the minister for land reform at the time - I don't know that much about it, but at least in some ways it seemed a split from the Left. I guess the other obvious possible candidate would be the CPN ML, but surely that would risk alienating at least a part of their base?

And thanks for your reporting in general; there just isn't much in English from people actually in the midst of events, let alone from somebody independent and sympathetic to the 'hard left'.

Benjamin Rosenzweig said...

Oh, and while I'm asking questions: do you happen to know what kind of position Sunil Babu Pant is taking?

Benjamin Rosenzweig said...

Hi again Ben, I've since read that the CPN United representatives opposed the new CPN-UML prime minister, along with the UCPN Maoist, so I'm assuming that means that Sunil Babu Pant did the same. From the way it was reported it sounded as if these were the only parties in parliament which had done so. Do you know if that is true?