MURARI SHARMA/BHAGIRATH BASNET
In a chilly Kathmandu morning, one of us bumped into a Nepali Congress stalwart and asked whether his party’s leader, Sushil Koirala, was going to become the next prime minister. The person expressed his doubts. About the fear that UCPN (Maoist) could capture the state, he asserted it would not happen as long as Goddess Bhadrakali is keeping watch over the country.
Such questions and fears have become a staple in Nepal. People are deeply worried about the prolonged political uncertainty and its economic fallouts that directly affect their lives. A deeply worried President Rambaran Yadav has lost patience and given political parties a time frame, which has been extended thrice already, to resolve the current impasse which has prevented the formation of consensus government to hold elections.
People are aghast with the Maoists in particular and political parties in general. People’s euphoria that was in evidence in 2006 has turned into despair and disgust, to such an extent that it has started to embolden the former King and his supporters. Though it could only be a mirage, the confidence of the royalists demonstrates the depth of Nepali people’s disenchantment with the Maoists and other political parties.
The Maoists have failed to behave as a democratic party and to show political acumen to operate in a democratic system. This failure has become even more glaring since the 2008 CA polls established them as the largest party. Since, they have led two governments and served the longest at the top. As such, their responsibility was higher as compared to other parties. But they clung to the philosophy of “might is right” and “power comes from the barrel of the gun,” rather than seeking the much-needed compromises for progress.
In a bid to remain perpetually in power, they injected the venom of ethnic politics in Nepali society. Now ethnic divisions have emerged as a significant threat to Nepal’s stability and even its existence as a sovereign nation. At a time when many other countries are struggling to emerge from ethnic crisis of their own, the Maoists have sown new seeds for ethnic conflict. As a result, their performance record is dismal. They failed to produce a new constitution, to provide security, to bring relief to victims of the insurgency, and to give a thrust to development.
Currently, Maoist Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is presiding over a dysfunctional government. Corruption is rampant, as nothing gets done without bribe. Law and order situation is precarious as the government has emboldened criminals by withdrawing 207 court cases against them. Drinking water taps are dry in many parts of Kathmandu. Load-shedding has gone up to 70 hours in a week, and rising. Whimsical expansion of roads without resources to rebuild them has made the capital a bowl of dust and diseases.
The economy is in tatters. Inflation has skyrocketed, making basic items out of reach of ordinary people. Even middle income people are struggling to pay for their children’s education. Health services have become so expensive that a serious illness can ruin the entire family. Though agricultural products have become extremely expensive, farmers remain poor because middlemen are grabbing most of the profit. The government looks on, for these middlemen are their own cadres. Crony capitalism is flourishing and the gap between haves and have-nots is growing exponentially and fueling social discontent.
Ministers have made money left and right through bribes and other illegitimate means. Lucrative public positions are being auctioned off to the highest bidders. For instance, someone has been appointed as executive chairman of the Nepal Telecommunications Authority only days ago even though the chief secretary opposed the candidate because he did not meet the qualifications defined in the law. Most remarkably, many Maoists leaders, the self-proclaimed champions of the proletariat, have become fabulously rich overnight.
Still, the ministers’ hunger for money continues to increase. Although Nepal has the second highest hydropower potential in the world, the Bhattarai government is bent on purchasing a diesel plant to pocket a huge commission, something Prachanda, when he was the prime minister, had tried but backed out due to popular opposition. They are also trying to sell the embassy building in London for a fraction of the market price.
Appallingly, Bhattarai continues to stick to the chair even after failing to hold elections he announced for Nov 22. As the Interim Constitution has no provision for another election for the CA, political consensus is vital to remove the hurdles for the vote. But Bhattarai, rather than quitting on moral grounds, has announced another election for next April without any understanding with other political parties.
Bhattarai has created a catch-22 situation. He has said he would quit as soon as a consensus candidate to replace him is agreed to. But neither he nor his party is willing to agree on any candidate other than himself or someone else from within the ruling coalition. This will compel President Yadav, who is the custodian of the constitution, to intervene. A verbal war has already started between the President and the prime minister.
For his part, Maoist Chairman Prachanda has of late been at his mendacious best. He has promised premiership to about a dozen opposition leaders, though his first priority is to become prime minister himself and the second, to save Bhattarai or replace him with someone from his own party. He has tipped Mahantha Thakur for the post only recently, fully confident that other parties will not accept the proposal.
It might look like Prachanda is doing Thakur a favor. But in reality, he is simply trying to expose Thakur and garner Madheshi support for himself. If it was not for his selfish conspiracy, Prachanda would have been the first to oppose Thakur or anyone from Madhesh for prime minister at a time when both the President and Vice-President are from Madhesh as well. But selfishness knows no reason or boundary.
The Maoists know they have done what they could to capture the state under the present circumstances. Going beyond will be impossible without President Yadav’s acquiescence, other political parties’ impotence, and neighboring countries’ support. They should also realize that they have no legitimate claim as the largest party until they become one in the next elections. Still, why are the Maoists behaving so bizarrely?
Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi provides the clue. She says, “It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts who are subject to it.” The Maoists are afraid of going into elections just yet and they want to head the election government to use government machinery and resources to win the vote when it takes place. As the largest party in the dissolved CA, the Maoists have the most to lose if the vote goes against them. And their poor record in the CA and in government does not give them much hope. So they will stick to power as long as they can and engage in political and economic corruption.
The Maoists have a tough road ahead. The CA failed to write a constitution on their charge, the republic proved a chaotic project, and economic and social transformation a mirage. The Maoists have only ethnic federalism to peddle in the next election. Since they know ethnic federalism is against their ideology and nearly 70 percent Nepalis do not like it, the Maoists find themselves lost in political wilderness.
All this does not mean that other political parties are free of blame or are without fear. They have contributed their fair share in the failure of the CA. They have misused and abused office, like the present parties in power, to their selfish and parochial interests when they ran the show or were part of it. And they would also like to head the election government to use government machinery and resources to their electoral advantage.
But there is no alternative to fresh elections to resolve the ongoing political crisis. Without political consensus the Interim Constitution cannot be amended and polls cannot be held. People’s patience with political parties is running out and President Yadav knows it. We hope the Maoists and other parties act before the President loses his patience.
Published on 2012-12-16 01:15:00