KATHMANDU - Early results and trends indicate that last Thursday's election
will push Nepal from feudal monarchy to a "people's republic", without a
democratic interlude in between.
The political party comprising former members of the Maoist insurgency
(1996-2006) succeeded in garnering support sufficient to leave its democratic
rivals far behind. The scoreboard on April 10 placed the Communist Party of
Nepal (Maoists) on top with 119 of 240 seats in the first-past-post segment of
the poll. The nearest rival, the Nepali Congress, was trailing with 34 seats
while the moderate communist party, Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML), stood third
with 31 seats.
Pre-poll estimates had put the Nepali Congress ahead of others, expected to be
followed by the UML. The Maoists were expected
to be reduced to an unenviable 50 seats. But all such predictions failed, to
the pleasant surprise of Maoist leaders. On the contrary, their party looked
set to win a majority of the 335 seats filled through proportional
representation of the electoral system. The remaining 26 seats in the
601-strong Constituent Assembly are to be occupied by government nominees.
"We have achieved more than what we expected," Baburam Bhattarai, a senior
Maoist leader, said in a newspaper interview published on Monday. Since his
party was emerging as the leader among the three main contestants, it would be
logical, he said, for them to head the next coalition government whose job is
to assist the assembly to draw up a constitution that replaces the one
promulgated in aftermath of first pro-democracy movement of 1990.
That statute transformed the active monarchy into a British-style
constitutional monarchy which lasted until King Gyanendra staged a royal coup
at the start of 2005. But Gyanendra's goal to return the monarch to the
political stage alienated democratic forces, prompting many to join the Maoist
campaign aimed at removing the monarchy for good. This process is to be
completed in a few weeks time - at the first sitting of the newly-elected
Bhattarai and several others in the present Maoist leadership drew inspiration
from the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) movement in Peru. This correspondent
remembers a time, in early 1990s, when Bhattarai collected the signatures of
several parliament members to denounce Alberto Fujimori and demand for the
release of Shining Path leader Gonzalo. While the insurgency in Peru failed,
even after the loss of 69,000 lives, Maoists in Nepal take solace from the fact
that their struggle has been successful, and with fewer deaths - officially
just over 13,000.
Besides, the Maoist leaders claim that theirs has been a homegrown movement.
This is a statement not substantiated by events and facts that surfaced in
intervening years. Not all the arms and ammunition they used, for example, were
from the police posts or army barracks their cadre stormed periodically.
Similarly, some of their comrades who left the movement have made public the
fact that their Supremo Prachanda and Bhattarai spent eight of the ten years in
different locations in India, taking advantage of the unregulated, porous
border between Nepal and India. Significantly, the signing of a 12-point
agreement in 2005, between the alliance of seven parties and the Maoists'
party, was held in New Delhi with tacit approval of Indian authorities.
But what is the secret of Maoist surprise success in the April 10 poll? What
allowed them to thwart almost all the opinion polls, analyses and predictions?
First, it reflected the public's desire for a progressive change; it was the
Maoists were ready and able to adapt. Second, the voters decided to punish the
incumbent parties for their inability to provide basic security to the
population, their inefficiency in performance and their indifference towards
There may have been other, less encouraging reasons. Election watchers and
analysts have recently reported firsthand reports of pre-poll irregularities
and intimidation by Maoist cadre. Proxy voting was widespread, mainly on the
Maoists' behalf; Nepalis working in Indian cities returned home in large
numbers and cast votes impersonating those who had gone to work abroad. Another
point repeatedly mentioned is the Maoist leaders' thundering pre-election
speeches in which they threatened to resume the violent insurgency if they did
not win the election. People who suffered during the previous insurrection may
have voted for Maoists in order to prevent violence.
International election observers described the polling day as largely peaceful,
but there was no way to monitor events in the interior or remote districts of
Kathmandu-based Western diplomats and their Indian and Chinese counterparts
could provide no credible reason why the Maoists made such surprising gains. On
the contrary, it had been believed that the election would bring the Maoists
down to their proper size - putting them in a position from which they could
neither think of going back to the jungles for another phase of armed struggle
nor command enough assembly seats to shake the foundation of a newly-installed
India's National Security Advisor M K Narayanan openly declared - through
CNN/IBN - India's preference for the Nepali Congress to outdraw the other
contesting parties. But other Indian political leaders blasted Narayanan's
remarks as interference in a friendly country's internal affairs. In an
editorial published on Monday, The Hindu, one of India's major newspapers,
described New Delhi's assumption: "Official India, which erroneously worked on
the assumption of Maoist defeat, also needs to accept the reality of Maoist
The poll's outcome is unlikely to be encouraging to anyone except the Chinese.
But they, too, may have second thoughts once they review the Maoist position on
issues such as autonomous regions and the right to self-determination. In
Nepal, they have been advocating for autonomous regions based on ethnicity,
often with the right to self-determination. This policy runs counter to China's
current situation in Tibet.
The euphoria in the Maoist camp is palpable. Prachanda, who won from two
constituencies, was already being projected as new Nepal's first president. If
such a scheme is agreed on, he will evict "suspended" king Gyanendra and begin
residing in Narayanhity Palace within weeks.
Prachanda's deputy, Bhattarai, defeated his nearest rival by a wide margin of
over 40,000 votes in the hilly district of Gorkha, the original homeland of the
Gurkhas. He is likely to be the country next prime minister. If so, he will
move to Baluwaataar, the official residence of prime minister where Girija
Prasad Koirala currently resides.
Koirala is in a dilemma due to heavy electoral losses his Nepali Congress party
incurred. His daughter, as well other members of the Koirala family, lost
elections. Also there is mounting pressure from a party executive for Koirala
to quit the premiership over his responsibility for the election debacle. Most
of the Congress leaders are also of the view that any kind of association with
the Maoists, especially in a coalition government, would invite further
devastation for the party.
"Let the Maoist run their show and put their revolutionary agenda into action,"
said Laxman Ghimire, an executive member of the Congress party.
But Koirala's thirst for power is well known. The Maoists may make use of that
weakness, as they have in the past, in order to smooth the path for a
"progressive" government. Accordingly, the Maoist leaders may request that he
continue to head the government (and remain as acting head of state) until the
new constitution is drafted. Koirala's established credentials as a democrat
could help the Maoists gain international acceptance and recognition.
The Maoists know they have formidable challenges ahead. For example, the touchy
issue of evicting Gyanendra, the move to integrate Maoist forces into the
national army and unpopular measure to deal with the soaring cost of petroleum
products. They must also reassure the country's business community that no
measures will be taken to discourage investment and that private properties
will not be nationalized.
Prachanda has stated many times that the Maoists realize classical communism is
not feasible in the 21st century. But others consider Maoist leaders to be
master strategists who can employ a range of tactics to accomplish their
mission. Had that not been the case, they could not have reached where they are
In 2005, they realized that their People's Liberation Army did not have the
capability to defeat the then Royal Nepal Army, and reach power through
military means. That is why they and entered into a political pact with
disgruntled democratic forces under Koirala. Slowly and steadily, said a
high-placed army officer, they achieved their objectives through Koirala who
perhaps unwittingly yielded too much, ostensibly in his bid to salvage the
"Of course, the country needs peace, but at what price?" said the official.
Koirala's "cooperation" is crucial for the Maoists, and essential to
consolidating their hold on power. Koirala may be carried away - once again -
by their polite and promising words, and brush aside the Congress party's
reservations against cooperating with the Maoists. In the end, Koirala runs the
risk of being a modern-day Paul von Hindenburg, the second president of
Germany's Weimer Republic. Hindenburg is remembered for having given the
initial legitimacy to Adolf Hitler, and thereby his Nazi dictatorship,
beginning in 1933.
To some Nepalis, their situation in their country is not as alarming as it is
made to appear. There is no need to be panicky, some are quick to say.
Apprehensions of external - Indian - military intervention are vastly
exaggerated by those who prefer to gloss over the presence of a mighty China to
the north. The red wave need not be read as an indicator of a major political
disaster. The present scenario is no reason to be scared, despite the current
phase of delicate transition.
"Will the Maoists be able to establish a totalitarian communist system in
Nepal?" editor Prateek Pradhan of The Kathmandu Post asked in an article on
April 17. He doesn't believe the Maoists have ability to change the country
beyond recognition. Those who share Pradhan's view didn't lose any time
mentioning the hordes of problems the Maoists will now be forced to confront.
The regional identity issue raised by some Terai groups, for example, could
become a formidable albatross for the Maoist government.
A counter argument, however, came a day earlier. Editor Mumaram Khanal of
Dishabodh, a leftist publication in Nepalese, told a radio interviewer
Wednesday: "[The] Maoists are a radical force; if they began to behave like one
of the existing political parties they will soon cease to be a force to be
reckoned with. They know what they are and what they stand for."
In other words, the Maoists won't stop their journey until they reached their