By Padmaja Murthy
The 28 May 2010 deadline for drafting the constitution is fast approaching and there is a fear that it will not be completed in time. Nepal has already entered another uncertain period with the indefinite general strike imposed since 1 May 2010 called by the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) as part of its fourth phase of agitation. The Maoists have warned that the indefinite strike will continue until the present government is replaced with a national unity government under their leadership. Where does Nepal go from here? What are the likely scenarios?
There had been a general consensus among the political parties for a national government but talks broke down when both the sides placed conditions; the UCPN-M wanted dissolution of the present government as the first condition, while the two major parties – Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist) (CPN-UML) (along with many other parties in the coalition) stressed that the Maoists transform themselves by committing to peaceful democratic means. Some also suggested that for the post of Prime Minister there should be alternative candidate from the Maoists side other than Prachanda.
The political parties consider the Maoist protest as a direct breach of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Their donation drive, attack on opponents and capture of government offices have led the country towards anarchy and chaos. The Maoist leadership feels that the decision of the National Security Council meeting that that Nepal Army (NA) could be mobilized if the government believes that the CPA has been violated speaks of confrontation. They argue that mobilization of the Army to contain the protests would be against the CPA. Some hardliners within the Maoists have opined that the Maoists would mobilize their own combatants if the government mobilized the NA.
Preceding these developments were reports that guerilla training was being given by the Maoists to its YCL (Young Communist League). The Maoists have said that these are for self-defence in case there is a crackdown on peaceful protests. Whatever the justification, the Maoists modes of protests in all three phases of agitation and presently the fourth one have undermined democracy and democratic means of redressal and civilian supremacy the most. On the other hand, the Maoists, who are the single largest party in the Constituent Assembly (CA), are in the opposition does not speak well of the other parties, as well as the practice and spirit of democracy.
There is complete disappointment across all cross sections of society in Nepal over the present situation that exists in the country. There is a broad consensus that all political parties and leaders are to blame for this scenario, as they are being motivated by desire to have political power rather than drafting the constitution and transforming the country. There is an earnest desire that at least now the leaders should come to a consensus and take the peace process ahead. An editorial in a leading newspaper wrote, “At this moment, it is futile to argue who started the fire. This is an appeal to douse the fire.”
Reports speak of the manner in which the proposed peaceful strike is slowly turning violent. Three likely scenarios could be predicted at this stage:
There will be a constitutional void if an agreement to extend the CA term, for which a consensus is required, is not reached by 28 May 2010. There are multiple opinions as to who should then be in charge of the affairs. Whether it should be the President or somebody else? Whoever comes to the helm, legitimacy will be contested by some group or the other. Another round of elections could fill the political vacuum.
During Jana Andolan II movement the Maoist insurgents were the only major armed group. Now there are several armed groups organized on the basis of region, class, caste, ethnicity and an awakening of rights. Any flare up would involve violence at various levels. The Army will be called upon. Instability will continue for a few months before peace talks overseen by international players take place.
A consensus could be arrived at or forced upon all the parties by the civil society and international actors where the Prime Minister of the national unity government could be from one of the marginalized parties. This would bypass the hard line positions being held presently. Then it could pass to the Maoists by rotation. This will ensure some stability on which consensus could be built.
The line dividing peace and conflict is very thin. Nepal needs to take that one big step which takes them away from conflict and towards peace. Will they proceed?
This article is a part of a series.
Padmaja Murthy is a former Visiting Research Fellow, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) at IPCS and may be reached at [email protected] This article was published by IPCS.