Saturday, October 05, 2013

Comrade Nepal Covers His Bases

With every election season, Madhav Kumar Nepal seems to emerge ever more committed to the principles and processes of democracy. As ambivalent Nepalis prepare a second time to elect representatives to write a constitution, the senior leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) states his party is taking part in the polls to strengthen democracy and the foundations of nationalism.
At a programme organized by the Kathmandu Chapter of Press Chautari, a group of reporters and editors allied to the UML, in the capital, Nepal reaffirmed his faith in multiparty democracy’s spirit that communists should win the people’s approval.
“We do not believe in totalitarianism and nor do we advocate [maintaining] the status quo,” he said. “We want the people’s approval in order to fulfill their expectations of change.”
Nepal, who is contesting the upcoming elections from Kathmandu Constituency No. 2, said the UML election manifesto would specifically pledge to draft the new constitution within six months of the constituent assembly’s formation.
There are quite some words of assurance, coming from the leader of a party whose democratic credentials, if truth be told, are not entirely above suspicion among many Nepalis. Not much time has passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall for communists anywhere to be heard talking about democracy with any degree of credibility.
Nepal’s assurance was even more surprising to those who read or heard about what he had supposedly said at a closed-door party meeting a few days earlier. At that venue, Nepal had said he was privy to information that the country would soon be facing a veritable catastrophe, not any sort of vote counting.
A flustered Bam Dev Gautam, the party vice-chairman, asked Nepal who he thought was behind this purported conspiracy. “I do not have full information on this but you
keep watching,” Nepal responded. “I am certain something is going to happen here very soon. And there will be no election.”
Now, if that threat had emanated from the usual suspects, Nepal would have jumped at the opportunity to answer Gautam. The former prime minister, after all, remains the most inveterate critic of former king Gyanendra. Moreover, he sounds the most confident among the current leaders ruling out the return of the monarchy in Nepal. Clearly, Nepal’s circumspection suggests that the threat comes from “those who must not be spoken of”.
Nepal is preparing to contest the elections from the same two districts he had lost from last time. In Rautahat, report suggests he has already made unsavory deals with other local contenders.
With Nepal having covered his bases, Maila Baje is tempted to ponder what the man really wants. No one knows how each big party would fare vis-à-vis the others. Their internal polls, we are told, have kept them all on edge, not to speak of the deep factionalism within.
Also unclear is the effect those boycotting the polls would have and what form the disruptions would take. And, ultimately, would the results carry the kind of legitimacy those taking part would want to be proud of?
Like many leaders of the major parties, Nepal probably does want the elections to take place as scheduled because the external stakeholders of the post-April 2006 process say they must “at all costs”. But what if he could find someone else to blame for subverting democracy?