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.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Fall Guy Isn’t Tripping Yet

The pre-poll rancor proceeds apace on two levels. Who was responsible for pushing the Baidya Maoists out of the electoral arena? And, second, which party among the principal mainstream contestants really does not want the polls to take place now the most?
Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist chairman Mohan Baidya, like most Nepalis, probably recognizes how both trains of thought are in a sense chugging along one track. Are we really expected, Maila Baje wonders, to sit here and believe the Nepali Congress, Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist are engulfed in despair that the Baidya Maoists have decided to boycott the elections?
Or that they are really afraid his alliance (which for all practical purposes is the Baidya party) might subvert an exercise they wanted so desperately that they had to deploy the military?
The elections are a formality that must be pursued as evidence that Nepal has both peace and a process driving it after it escaped the clutches of the monarchy. The exercise, more importantly, is meant to mollify the legions of do-gooders around the world who aren’t supposed to be anywhere close to the polling booth but believe they have all the prescriptions.
Few Nepalis, if instant online surveys and casual conversations are anything to go by, expect the next constituent assembly to write a new constitution. Prominent leaders are claiming with a straight face that the elections will be successful because the international community wants them to be.
Other top leaders are candidly asking us not to worry because the constitution could be enacted through referendum should agreement elude the drafters this time as well. (Are they going to disagree with the draft but come out with one anyway? Or they going to come out with multiple drafts and ask the people to choose from among them?)
The three principal parties each claim they will come out on top. But each one is mired in internecine battles within. Individual leaders – senior, junior, self-appointed and catapulted ones, alike – are more alarmed by their party rivals’ prospects than they are imbued with confidence in the prospects of their triumph.
What all this means is that, collectively, no one is sure which way the wind will blow. Even Jimmy Carter can’t expect to affirm an uncontested stamp of approval this time. The best thing the big parties think they could do is postpone the elections. But that’s a no-no for the international stakeholders.
The obvious fall guy isn’t showing signs of tripping. Baidya, having rebuffed invitations to the top table via the backdoor, is carefully positioning his alliance for a peaceful boycott. Now, that could mean anything – ranging from sitting out in the wilderness to become the chief critic of whatever the winners do end up drafting, to reinforcing the royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal in a united front against gyrations choreographed elsewhere.
So, if the big parties still want to delay the polls, they will have to find some other excuse credible enough to the international community. Might something like popular apathy work? Heck, the parties could use their own supporters to organize anti-election rallies to force the rest of the world to step back, all in the name of the peace process.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Big Tent And Small Talk

Okay, enough with the cackles. The Big Three are serious when they say they want to nominate representatives of the poll-boycotting 33-party alliance to the new constituent assembly. We all need a big tent, unless we want to keep choosing every couple of years people who might be able to draft our constitution. Even in that case, who is to say that the Nepali Congress or the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) would not mount their own boycotts down the road for one reason or the other? So let’s do what we have to while we still can.
Comrade Rohit of Nepal Workers and Peasants Party is most appalled at the idea. But, then, he’s the guy who signed the 12-Point Agreement in New Delhi only to land in Kathmandu to tell us how bad it was. Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Nepali Congress leader senior leader Sher Bahadur Deuba and CPN-UML senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal all have broach the idea because, Maila Baje hears in not so soft whispers, it originally came from the real architects of the 2005 accord.
There is precedent here. One that precedes the entry of Madhav Nepal into a body voters affirmed they didn’t want him in – twice. Nepal went on to achieve his long-held dream of becoming head of government but also became one of the longest caretaker premiers in the world.
Come to think of it, our whole post-April 2006 peace process is predicated on such magnanimity. The Maoists, who facilitated Nepal’s circumvention of the popular will, were themselves brought into an interim parliament that rose on the debris of what had been duly dissolved by an elected prime minister. When the king revived the House of Representatives to cool passions on the streets, he employed the same arbitrariness the mainstream parties and the Maoists had longed condemned him for. Consensus trumps constitutionalism. Who can forget how Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, having lost the election to the first parliament in 1959, went on to become its speaker anyway?
But there is a problem, here. The breakaway Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which heads the anti-poll alliance, does not want a place in the assembly. That it has fallen to leaders of the hardest-line major party to point out the inherent undemocratic nature of the proposal is beside the point.
The international community must be a little discomfited here, too. Jamie McGoldrick, the top United Nations official in Nepal, urged CPN-Maoist leader Mohan Baidya to make sure his boycott was peaceful.
The campaign, meanwhile, has turned colorful and clich├ęd. Dahal’s critics continue to mock him as ‘wall president’, while the Nepali Congress is dismissed as a sinking ship. The UML is being called what it has been since its inception: wishy-washy. The pro-monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal expects an “unexpected” outcome, while the regional outfits are trying to figure out who they want to represent.
As November 19 approaches, there still is the possibility of a postponement of the polls. An equal likelihood could be a last-minute point-by-point deal that would bring Baidya & Co. onboard to fight their next battles. This is the fun of our relentless search for newness. While we’re still at it, Baidya might want to do a Comrade Rohit: maintain the boycott, refuse nomination to the assembly, but extend support from outside.