Monday, June 26, 2006

The SPAM Slapstick

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s return home, after receiving medical treatment in a Bangkok hospital, is expected to unfold the next act in the Seven Party Alliance-Maoist (SPAM) slapstick.
Maoist supremo Prachanda and his No. 2 Dr. Baburam Bhattarai are back in Kathmandu after a whirlwind tour of their base areas. They have held preliminary talks with senior SPA leaders, who dubbed the eight-point accord a mistake days after signing it.
Early indications from some of those confabulations suggest that a second Koirala-Prachanda summit might not be able to paper over those differences entirely.
The dissolution of the House of Representatives, representational issues on the panel that is drafting the interim constitution, the precise status of the Maoists’ weapons before they can be inducted in a new interim government, among other things, would have to be addressed by the prime minister.
What all this means is that Koirala not only needs to attend the next post-summit news conference – on a wheelchair or a respirator if necessary – but also must take full command of the proceedings. We certainly cannot expect army headquarters to keep on rebutting the inanities Prachanda seems so eager to foist on the Nepalese people in the presence of ministers and SPA leaders intimidated into silence.
Considering how the government, in Koirala’s absence, couldn’t even present a united view on the army’s angry response to Prachanda’s denigration of the record of the Nepalese military, Koirala’s active participation in this side of the peace process becomes all the more crucial.
The fact that it took a “royalist” ex-premier, Surya Bahadur Thapa, president of the Rastriya Janashakti Party, to emphasize the long-term damage the SPA’s shallowness would inflict on the nation remains instructive.
It would be naïve, however, to believe that the Maoist leaders have returned to the capital with their foot soldiers solidly behind them. Military strategist Ram Bahadur Thapa “Badal” hasn’t broken his vow of silence. Worse, it increasingly looks like he has Nanda Kishor Pun “Pasang”, that other feared rebel commander, on his side.
The reality that both men come from the Magar community, which underpins the rebel movement but is sparsely represented in the political leadership, cannot be wished away. The eight-point accord marks a sharp climbdown for the rebels, who had declared war on both the parliamentary system and the monarchy, which is bad enough. Reports that the Maoists have watered down – if not entirely abandoned – their commitment to creating ethnically defined autonomous regions certainly cannot have gone down well with the rank and file.
Furthermore, Matrika Yadav, the most prominent Maoist leader from the Terai, has vowed to lead a boycott of the constituent assembly polls unless madhesis get their citizenship certificates. The recent House of Representatives Proclamation may have cleared the way for the distribution of citizenship papers that had been held back since slain King Birendra virtually scuttled the last legislative initiative months before his tragic end.
Whether the Koirala government, two months after its heady rise to office, can muster the political will to make such a weighty decision remains to be seen.
Of course, the SPA and the Maoists can still try to divert public attention by whipping up fears of a “resurgent autocratic monarchy”.
Both sides, however, would do well to recognize that the Nepalese people they want to empower certainly do not lack the power of good judgment, especially amid the charade of the past couple of days.