|Caption: Maoist cadres protesting the postponement of Constituent Assembly elections, 14 April|
The past month has seen a charade played by the political parties in Kathmandu, including the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), newly inducted into the government and interim parliament. Everyone knows that the promised elections to the Constituent Assembly cannot be held in June as planned. And yet everyone is comfortable living the lie that they will be held as scheduled. In fact, all sides vociferously hold forth on the necessity of this, all the while hoping desperately that someone else will make the inevitable announcement. A political calamity is predicted upon the failure to hold the polls in June, and no one wants to be seen to have contributed to this through the act of questioning the dates.
An election to a Constituent Assembly (CA), which would restructure state-society relations, was exactly what the Maoists needed to extract from the parliamentary political parties before they could justify giving up their decade-long ‘people’s war’. For their part, the parties could not agree to a Constituent Assembly until the Maoists convinced them of their intention to lay down the gun. Agreement was reached on these matters in the so-called ‘Twelve-Point Agreement’, signed between the two sides after half-secret talks in New Delhi in November 2005. That agreement paved the way for the People’s Movement of April 2006, and since then the torturous series of negotiations that saw the adoption of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the arrival of United Nations monitors, and the induction of the Maoists into the interim parliament and government. All of these are seen as way-stations on the road to the Constituent Assembly.
Today, the demand for a Constituent Assembly is much more than a means to bring the Maoists in from the jungle. In a country of minorities, all oppressed communities – by ethnicity, language, faith, region and even altitude – have internalised the fact that the state needs to be restructured through the Constituent Assembly. The CA is seen as a means to correct historical neglect and injustice, to overturn the control exercised by Kathmandu Valley by pushing through a federal structure, and – something the political class seems to greatly favour – getting rid of monarchy in all forms and configurations.
In the second week of April, it was left to the Election Commission to ask for 110 days to organise the polls after election laws were enacted, and the commissioners did everything but say out loud that elections were impossible in June. Crucial pieces of electoral legislation were still pending with the government and parliament, the logistics were not in place, and a state of fear and intimidation still prevailed in large parts of a country coming out of a decade-long internal conflict. The United Nations representative in Kathmandu let it be known that June elections were neither politically nor technically feasible.
At long last, by the start of the Nepali New Year in mid-April, the political class seemed to have matured enough to look reality in the eye, and to stop depicting election sceptics as ‘royalists’ and ‘reactionaries’. But even so, as Himal goes to press, there seems to be no hurry to declare a postponement. The government continues to move at a leisurely pace, seemingly in the belief that there is no need to make an announcement about what is already known.
Prepare for fall elections
The scaremongers who claim that Nepali society will crumble if the elections do not take place in June are wrong. To begin with, the law-and-order situation is in shambles due to an incapable Home Ministry and the constant irresponsible acts of Maoist cadres; indeed, things could not get much worse. But the task at hand for responsible social and political leaders is to ensure that the long interregnum that would come as a result of the postponement of polls does not invite lawlessness and anarchy. To prevent the few remaining ultra-conservatives from fishing in troubled waters, some observers in Kathmandu believe that it is important to weaken the monarchy further by taking the title of ‘king’ away from Gyanendra, cutting the umbilical cord that still links him to the erstwhile royalist army, and taking action against those royal functionaries who have been pronounced culpable for the suppression of the People’s Movement last year.
At the same time, as part of a comprehensive package to ensure stability, and so as to make up for a decade of destruction and lost time, the government must jumpstart the development process, get a few high-profile, employment-generating infrastructure projects underway, and begin the rehabilitation process in earnest. While Nepal’s internally displaced have to be reinstated to their homesteads, what is known as ‘security-sector reform’ must include the induction of a sizeable section of the Maoist fighters into an appropriate unit of the Nepal Army.
It is important for the eight-party alliance, headed by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, to collectively concede the impossibility of elections in June, and simultaneously to announce a new date for polls in the autumn of 2007, after the monsoon and the harvest season are passed. It would not be sensible to delay the elections to next year, because too much depends on the early and credible holding of elections for the CA, free of fear and intimidation. The postponement of five months would allow a countrywide campaign of debate and discussion, even as the CPN (Maoist) gets the reprieve it needs to put together a party organisation that does not really exist at present. It is better that the Maoists have a relatively good showing in a delayed election than that they be routed in a hastily organised one.