Event ReportsPublished on Oct 30, 2007
The peace process in Nepal has been pushed to a corner and it has reached a very critical stage, after the postponement of the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections.
Peace process in Nepal put on backburner

The peace process in Nepal has been pushed to a corner and it has reached a very critical stage, after the postponement of the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. In fact, the poll suspension has undermined credibility of the government, Seven Party Alliance (SPA), the Maoists, and has let down the people and the international community, said Dr S Chandrasekharan, a noted expert on Nepal, during a roundtable discussion organised at the Observer Research Foundation on October 30, 2007 in New Delhi.

The Maoists are not ready to face elections in the mixed electoral system, as they are aware that they may not gain more than 7 to 8 percent of the total votes, while through the Proportional Representational (PR) system, they can obtain more seats, he said. As a result, the Maoists decided to thwart the elections process by demanding declaration of republic before the polls and proportional electoral system, through a special session of the parliament. He viewed that the polls will lack credibility, if held without the Maoists participation. Moreover, it will also threaten the fragile peace process and have serious political implications, he noted. He suggests that out of the twin demands of the Maoists, some accommodations can be made, to diffuse the political deadlock, as this may pave way for smooth holding of the polls.

In order to sustain the peace process and bring it to a logical conclusion it is required to keep intact the unity of SPA, along with the Maoists. However, the major political players have exhibited their reluctance, to evolve a clear roadmap for smoother transition, and they lack determination to face the polls. Majority of the stakeholders have their own problems and issues. The two factions of Nepali Congress (NC) have emerged as the largest single party but it is not clear whether the merger will prove beneficial for them during the polls. Subsequently, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) is also caught up in similar position. The UML’s rank and file is in no mood to join hands with the NC or Maoists, even for a short term objective. Therefore, the postponement of polls has brought relief for the parties.

Though the Maoists have committed to the peace process after joining the mainstream they are yet to change their past methods and approach. They have not dismantled their parallel government in some areas and are indulged in extortion and violent means. The Maoists affiliated Young Communist League (YCL) cadres continue to indulge in violence and there is no intention of disbanding them, he said. Besides, it also appears that the Maoists party is divided on certain issues. Differences have emerged between the hardliners (leaders like Badal and CP Gajural) and moderates (Prachanda and Dr Baburam Bhattarai) over joining mainstream politics. However, though there were differences within the Maoist party they did not seem to be very serious in nature. Rather at crunch time and when a major decision has to be taken they will all be together to accomplish their objectives. The Maoists are not going to accept the people’s verdict easily if it does not go in their favour. Moreover, they will continue with their agitation and confrontational approach and try to thwart the election process.

It would be incorrect to say that the monarchy had lost popularity. The institution of monarchy is still popular among the masses with many sympathizers. Despite threats and warnings from YCL cadres, large number of people wished the King on his birthday. In the days ahead, if violence and the lawlessness of the YCL cadres continue and the government sits like a mute spectator, there is a possibility of people looking for an alternative arrangement. In such a scenario, people may tend to sympathize with the same old regime. In fact, the Nepal Army (NA) still maintains some loyalty towards the monarchy and is against immediate abolition of the institution. More importantly, if the Maoists violence and agitation escalates and the government fails to respond to it positively, there is a high possibility of the army getting active.       

For long, Kathmandu centred ruling elites have ignored and discriminated the Madhesi population and their demands, and this was an eruption waiting to happen. The Madhesi anger has been building up for more than five decades and accelerated after the 1990 Constitution failed to address their demands. Post Jana Aandholan II (April 2006) the Madhesi populace had high hope from the interim government. But, even the new dispensation did not take into account the Madhesi sacrifice, and this has hurt their sentiments. As a result, the Madhesi people staged several protest demonstrations, and at times, these demonstrations have turned out to be violent. Presently, there are several armed Tarai factions indulged in violence, abduction and extortion. The region has become ungovernable and the security situation looks grim. Unless the region is pacified and the situation is brought under control, no meaningful elections can take place in Nepal.    

India was actively engaging with Nepal and had moved from a benign neglect to being a pro active player. After the April revolution of 2006, Indian policy makers had been successful in forging unity between the democratic forces and had also been pushing for the CA polls. Although the sudden postponement of the polls had disappointed India; it has reiterated its commitment to support the Nepali peace process. However, India would have to work out on various set of scenarios, according to the developments unfolding in Nepal. Commenting on the Chinese position on Nepal... China always tried to maintain a low profile in Nepalese affairs and has repeatedly stated that it is embarrassed by the revival of Maoism in Nepal. On the other hand, it maintains contacts on party to party basis. Even the Maoists have a soft corner towards China and this continues to this day.

The roundtable discussion was chaired by Mr Vikram Sood, Vice President, Centre for International Affairs, ORF. The discussion was attended by former Ambassadors, who served in Nepal in different capacities. Besides, eminent scholars and academics on Nepal from different institutions and ORF faculty members attended the roundtable.    

Report prepared by Paul Soren

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