Friday, April 28, 2006

Democracy – That Great Equalizer

The prime minister-designate is too ill to take the oath of office. The revived legislature doesn’t have a speaker because he’s been forced to step down by his own party.
The deputy speaker reads out the prime minister-designate’s proposal to hold elections to a constitutional assembly. The high-profile session is adjourned after 35 minutes.
The monarch who returned executive power to the people is blamed for everything. The mainstream parties affirm that in the legislature. The Maoist rebels assert it at a public meeting. Democracy shines.
The Unified Marxist-Leninists, the second largest constituent of the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) has gone the farthest in the anti-royal dash. Top leaders have said the constitutional assembly would only formalize what the Nepalese people had affirmed over the past three weeks: the transformation of Nepal into a republic. It wants to be part of a Government of Nepal instead of His Majesty’s Government.
The UML has good reason to strike the hardest at the palace. The comrades were part of the coalition King Gyanendra dismissed on February 1, 2005 before seizing full powers. UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal was tormented the longest after the royal takeover. He was the last leader to be released following the royal takeover, only to be rearrested several months later. When most opposition leaders were being freed from house arrest, Madhav Nepal was transferred to the custody of the security forces.
During the height of the protests, the UML general secretary was told he would be released. He was brought halfway to the capital from the Kakani barracks only to be put back in detention until the following afternoon.
So political developments sound straightforward, eh? Consider the fine print. And where else to begin than with the official Maoist mouthpiece, Janadesh?
In a blistering editorial against the SPA’s rush in hailing King Gyanendra’s restoration of the House of Representatives – thereby “betraying” the Nepalese aspirations for “total democracy” -- the Maoists heaped much of their ire on the UML. The main communist party in the mainstream, according to the rebels, was actively involved in subverting the protests. UML leaders, according to the Maoists, were instrumental in shelving a Kathmandu-centered showdown in favor of nationwide protests. That weakened the democracy movement from the outset. Moreover, the rebels maintain, the UML whipped up fears of a brutal palace crackdown to prevent party cadres from participating in the protests.
Dip a little deeper. Which leaders might the rebels be talking about? Madhav Nepal was behind a massive security cordon. Bam Dev Gautam was ensconced in New Delhi fine-tuning the SPA-Maoist accord. While Madhav Nepal and Gautam were mounting scathing attacks on King Gyanendra, the third principal UML figure – Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli -- was sounding remarkably conciliatory. He’s the man who will lead the UML contingent in Prime Minister-designate Girija Prasad Koirala’s government. Of the UML triumvirate, Oli is the only man who hasn’t served as deputy prime minister.
With Koirala in poor health, Oli would probably be the de facto premier. Even if he doesn’t, you gotta admit – democracy is a great equalizer.