Thursday, April 12, 2007

CA Election: Credibility & Cover

With Indian Ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee having stepped into it, the debate over whether the constituent assembly elections can be held on schedule has been reframed. Now we are being told that elections can be held in “unusual circumstances” and that Nepal can “show its own example.”
We didn’t really need Chief Election Commissioner Bhoj Raj Pokharel to give us that first nugget. King Gyanendra had held municipal elections in much worse circumstances with a 20 percent turnout. For all the condemnation the balloting provoked, no one seriously questioned the level of voter participation.
In suggesting that Nepalis should establish their own electoral paradigm, the Indian ambassador has much more than overruled UNMIN chief Ian Martin. Mukherjee has assured our SPAMers not worry about trifles like international credibility; the world’s largest democracy has already conferred all the legitimacy this government will ever need.
With Indians as the principal beneficiaries of the latest drive to distribute citizenship papers, there is an obvious urgency on the part of New Delhi to see the CA elections held on time.
Moreover, the mainstreaming of the Maoists has an important internal-security dimension down south. New Delhi doesn’t want the Maoists to go back to fighting, especially when a significant section of the Indian military-security establishment is working overtime to prove the ex-rebels connections with Islamic militants.
As for UNMIN, the worst it can do is pull out, something the Security Council resolution mandating its creation has specifically provided for. That way, New Delhi will have burned enough international fingers to keep the United Nations out of its neighbourhood for good. (This was probably why it acceded to an international role in Nepal in the first place.)

India’s stamp of approval on a flawed CA election would inevitably get the United States and Britain onboard. The Chinese aren’t ones who are going to go public with their reservations. Actually, they have reason to be happy.
By seeking Beijing’s inclusion as a full member of the SAARC on the sidelines of the New Delhi summit, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala let us in on part of the conversation he had had with Chinese state councillor Tang Jiaxuan in Kathmandu ahead of the April Uprising. With the Nepali Congress having flashed the “China card,” Nepal has fully and formally drawn South Asia’s new center of gravity.
Forget all those technicalities. The only reason the CA elections won’t be held on time is because no one is sure of the outcome. The SPAMers denied the Nepali people the right to vote in a simultaneous referendum on the monarchy, insisting the issue be addressed by the first sitting of the elected assembly.
But then they realized the palace could buy off enough legislators to stay on. So a second amendment to the constitution has appropriated popular sovereignty by reserving the interim legislature’s right to abolish the monarchy should the palace be found to be plotting against the CA polls. A double whammy? Not quite.
Maoist chairman Prachanda has cushioned himself enough by declaring that the monarchy won’t be uprooted just because of a legislative vote. He wants the people to flood the streets once more. If they don’t, well it’s not Prachanda’s fault.
It’s the SPA component of the ruling coalition that badly needs a cover to delay the polls. King Gyanendra should give them one. The monarch should use his widely anticipated New Year’s message to go a step further in justifying his February 1, 2005 takeover.
The story should begin with the election of the Congress-led government in 2004, covering Natwar Singh’s visit, the Prachanda-Baburam Bhattarai split and the haggling over that royal visit to India that never happened. Then we can wait and see how our interim legislators actually vote.