Sunday, November 24, 2013

Winners And Losers – Take Your Pick

What stood out the starkest from the handwringing and hubris over the results of the second constituent assembly elections was Maoist leader Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s clarification. The outcome of the election was by no means a repudiation of the Maoist agenda. (Translation: Nepali voters were too stupid to recognize the great work the Maoists were doing on their behalf and sooner or later realize that.)
Before rushing to ridicule our erudite Dr. Bhattarai, let’s not forget the larger question. What is it with these leftist/liberals everywhere? On the other side of the globe, we have a president who finally apologizes to his people for the disastrous rollout of his signature healthcare plan. But, no, he is not sorry for having misled the people that they could keep their existing health plan if they liked it. He apologized for not being able to make the people understand more clearly that national healthcare meant universalizing a lousy plan that gave out free birth control but drastically raised premiums and deductibles.
When you know you are running out of excuses, you start the kind of sordid contortions Dr. Bhattarai engaged in. No, the Maoists might not join the newly elected assembly in protest against the rigged vote, Dr. Bhattarai suggests. But, in the same breadth, he proclaims his party actually won the elections because the constituent assembly was its longstanding demand in the first place, which the other parties agreed to kicking and screaming.
To twist and turn things further, if the assembly Dr. Bhattarai so fervently supports were to affirm the framework of the 1990 Constitution, would he accept? What 1990 Constitution, you might ask, considering the flatness of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal’s fall in the first-past-the-post category of the polling? Nepalis may have voted against ethnic-based federalism, but they did not deliver a verdict in favor of restoring the monarchy. (For heaven’s sake, three members of the republican faction of the party of the former panchas were directly elected.)
What did Nepalis vote for then? The Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) two-thirds of the 1990 framework, surely, in a fractured assembly. Which then forces us to contend with our past more than with our future. In the CPN-UML, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Bam Dev Gautam won from two constituencies each, joining party chairman Jhal Nath Khanal and his challenger Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli.
We spent five years ridiculing how Madhav Nepal managed to become prime minister despite having lost the election from two constituencies. Do we believe he would not want to extract the full price of having won doubly this time? (He did imply as much to reporters after his triumph, forcing Oli to flinch.) And Gautam knows a thing or two about dissidence and its ultimate manifestation.
On the Nepali Congress side, of its three principal leaders, Sushil Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba won from two constituencies each. What both can agree on is that Ram Chandra Poudel has less of a claim to the premiership. Before we go gaga over the likes of Gagan Thapa, let’s not forget that people like Krishna Prasad Sitaula, Arjun Narsingh KC, Ram Sharan Mahat and Prakash Man Singh are pretty much around, not to speak of the second-generation Koiralas. Prime minister they may not become. But they sure can determine who does. (And don’t even get Maila Baje started on what Khum Bahadur Khadka might be contemplating).
If the Maoists have retained even a fraction of the political skills they exhibited during the people’s war, they might be the ones to watch throughout. A UML-backed Pushpa Kamal Dahal premiership or a Nepali Congress-backed Baburam Bhattarai government may sound too far-fetched at this time. But you get the drift.