Despite chaotic conditions, Nepal continues to provide surprises. In a situation where the boundaries between the executive, legislative and the judiciary are fuzzy, the President on 13th December directed the Speaker to convene the parliament on the 19th of December and the Supreme Court in turn took the unusual decision on the 13th that in the election to the post of the prime minister, no member can abstain and that no one can be elected unopposed either!
More surprising was the quick pace and the quick decisions taken by the high-level task committee led by Prachanda in deciding on many of the contentious issues concerning the new constitution. The central committee meeting of the Maoists sprang another surprise by declaring India as the “main enemy” despite the reservations of the factions led by Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai!
The Supreme Court Directive:
On the 17th of December, the Supreme Court held that in the election to the post of the prime minister, the law makers cannot abstain from voting and that if there is an election no candidate can be declared as prime minister unopposed. It said that staying neutral is against the provisions of both the interim constitution and the constituent assembly regulations. It is not clear how the court came to such a conclusion and surely the parliamentarians cannot be compelled to vote in an election where they are opposed to both or more of the candidates standing for the election.
This would mean that the Prime minister has to be elected through a majority for which there has to be two candidates. For this, Paudel the Nepali Congress candidate will have to withdraw first.
Surprisingly both the Maoists and the Nepali Congress have welcomed the judgement. The Nepali Congress feels that the UML whose votes are crucial cannot remain neutral anymore forgetting the fact that the UML is currently vertically split, one favouring the Maoists and the other the Nepali Congress. Also, the chairman of UML will now renew his ambitions to become the prime minister. All his efforts to get Madhav Nepal of his own party to quit would be a waste other wise!
The Maoists on the other hand are hoping that the chairman of the UML, Jhala Nath Khanal would be able to prevail over the other faction led by K.P. Oli to vote the Maoists into power once again.
The position of the Madheshi groups of parties is also not clear and though it has held together so far, it could split again with one group voting for the Maoists. All of a sudden, the Nepali Congress is finding itself divided, with the Deuba faction not favouring Paudel anymore.
Thus the President’s direction and the Supreme Court decision are unlikely to solve the present political impasse unless there is a change of heart of one of the three main parties.
The UNMIN is set to leave on January 15, 2001 and this was made clear by the visiting Under Secretary General B.Lynn.Pascoe on the 4th of December. During his visit he urged the parties to resolve the issues relating to integration/rehabilitation and statute making expeditiously.
He made it clear that the UNMIN will quit but said that the issue will remain on the UN agenda for the next three years. It is not clear what he meant by this. The government has asked the UNMIN to leave the equipment that will include monitoring devices, weapons containers and the installations in the seven main cantonments and in the main barracks where weapons are stored..
The Maoists are still fighting a rear guard battle to retain the UNMIN until May 28th- that is until the expiry of the interim constitution. The Nepali Congress does not mind the UNMIN continuing but only with a revised brief that will not include the monitoring of the Nepalese Army.
The question arises – what happens to the Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee which will have no legal existence once the UNMIN leaves? The Government is of the view that the special committee for supervision, integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants can take over the duties of UNMIN. For this, there will have to be an agreement amongst the parties. Even if an agreement is reached, the government does not have fool proof means to monitor the camps.
The only way out is to expedite the integration as quickly as possible. Surprisingly, in an informal check with the combatants, it is said that roughly half the combatants would prefer rehabilitation. There is a great demand for Nepalese manpower abroad and many of the combatants would prefer to go abroad and make some money.
The technical committee for integration has come out with an unusual suggestion that those who want to be integrated could be absorbed in the three security units of the country, the Nepal Army, the Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force (APF) in proportion to their existing strength. The proportional strength of the three units comes to 50, 31 and 19 percent respectively and if only half or less than half of 19602 combatants are to be integrated, they could be absorbed in the same proportion. This is doable.
But the Maoists are still sticking to their stand that both the Nepalese Army and the PLA should be merged to form a national army! This looks more like a ploy to delay the integration and they are expecting a quid pro quo to change from this position. According to the new suggestion about 4500 could join the army which is what G.P.Koirala had offered and Prachanda had informally agreed to.
The high-level task force that was formed to expedite the contentious issues, made surprising progress in solving 100 of the 210 issues placed before them. The term of the task force ended on 11th December and surprisingly the members did not agree for an extension though much remains to be done. The task force was headed by Prachanda and perhaps the Maoists wanted to show to other parties that if they want to they could be reasonable and ensure quick decisions.
Some of the points agreed to are interesting. Nepal is to be a multi lingual, multi cultural and multi ethnic society. The term “multi ethnic” has replaced “multi national” for some inexplicable reason. The constitution can generally be amended by a 2/3rd majority or by a referendum except for some unchangeables. The Maoists want sovereignty, secularism and federalism to be unchangeable while the Nepali Congress wants that human rights, rule of law, press freedom, pluralism and independence of the judiciary should also be included.
The Maoists appear to be uncomfortable with the term “pluralism”and claim that the term has undertones of reactionary philosophy and capitalism!
Some of the ‘settled issues’ include Nepali as official language, independence of the judiciary, dual citizenship for NRNs and a three pillar economic strategy of state, private and cooperative enterprises.
Unsettled issues include modalities of federalism, nature of governance, electoral system and the structure of the central legislative body. These are serious issues.
The surprise was the quick acceptance of independence of the judiciary which the Maoists were resisting initially.
India, the Main Enemy:
It was my impression that whatever be the ideology and rhetoric, the Maoists are very practical people and that Prachanda is realistic enough to know what is achievable. He has been good at getting it and also in convincing his own cadres.
This time the surprise was that Ptrachanda allowed the just concluded central committee to endorse the line of “People’s Revolt” and naming India as the “main enemy” that is standing in their way to achieve the ultimate goal of communism. This could more to pressurise India!
It was known that Prachanda experienced considerable flak both in his style of functioning and in ignoring the “front organisations” and he had to give in, both in the extended plenum and in the central committee. The hard line faction seems to have got its way.
It is not good for the party’s future and all those who hoped that the Maoists could be “mainstreamed” should now be thinking whether they have made a mistake in their assessment.