KATHMANDU - Though political
turmoil in Nepal leaves little scope for optimism,
astrologers in the Hindu-majority country are predicting
a relatively stable year ahead.
new year falls on April 13, with this to be the
year 2069 under the Vikram Samvat calendar. Prophecies include the emergence of
"like-minded groups" in the running of the
country, suggesting that somehow the Maoist and
pro-democracy camps will resolve their differences
and finally write a long-awaited new constitution.
"Upcoming planetary movements place Planet
Earth closer to Venus facilitating reconciliatory
initiatives" astrological scholar
Govinda Baniya told Asia
Times Online. "Love is poised to occupy the place
hitherto held by hate and violence." South Asian
politics in their entirety will be dominated by
women leaders for the time being, Baniya said.
Ground realities in this part of South
Asia, however, are different, and such prophecies
are unlikely to ease the population's concerns
over a current impasse that has seen a new
constitution delayed since a democratic uprising
that overthrew the monarchy in 2006 and the
Maoist's election victory in 2008.
Bhattarai, the interim prime minister, has warned
the people that if the new, post-monarchical
statute is not enacted by the extended deadline of
May 27, the country may be shaken by an "accident
producing unimaginable consequences".
also agrees with leaders of rival parties that
political gains since the royalty was kicked out
could be at risk. Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka
Prachanda, chairman of the Unified Communist Party
of Nepal (Maoist), which the prime minister
belongs to, has also publicly expressed concerns
about looming political crisis.
Prachanda's deputies, vice-chairman Mohan Baidya
"Kiran", who leads the dissenters' group in the
Maoist party, has been telling party cadres to
remain ready to restart an armed rebellion should
there be conspiracies to deprive the country of a
"people's constitution"(a statute fit for
communist dispensation). The last Maoist rebellion
lasted from February 1996 to 21 November 2006 and
claimed some 15,000 lives.
describe the unfolding scenario as "bizarre" since
the party governing the interim coalition itself
is behaving as if it was in the opposition.
Nepal is currently governed under an
interim constitution enforced in January 2007. A
601-strong Constituent Assembly was elected in
April 2008 with the purpose of drawing up a new
statute in two years. However, after missing three
deadlines already it seems very unlikely to
produce one even after the latest, extended
deadline of May 27. A Supreme Court ruling has
forbidden further extensions.
Two of the
three main political parties in the assembly are
blaming the Maoists for the delay - with 340
seats, the Maoists dominate the assembly - but the
Maoists flatly deny the allegation.
Meanwhile, former rebel leaders accuse the
Nepali Congress, the main party with democratic
credentials, and the Unified Marxist Leninist
(UML), a moderate communist group, of preventing
smooth and "dignified" integration of former
Maoist combatants into the Nepal Army.
Nearly 10,000 of 19,000 thousand rebels
recently opted for "retirement" - with cash
incentives - while the remaining men and women
have shown interest in joining the national
Maoist leaders insist that forces
must be integrated in one bloc while other parties
resist this, saying that, as per an earlier
agreement, only up to 6,500 can be absorbed, and
only if they individually meet standard norms
prescribed in the army regulations.
key issue of the [ongoing] peace process is the
decommissioning of Maoist forces, and the
integration," said Ram Sharan Mahat, a Nepali
Congress leader, in a newspaper article on Friday.
He claims Maoist leaders are deliberately biding
precious time, to employ pressure tactics, at the
crucial hour, upon others into accepting their
terms for integration.
integration question continues to be a key issue,
some independent analysts believe Maoist leaders
are also stalling on a new statute as chances of
the document taking the shape of a "people's
constitution " appear uncertain. It seems the
Maoists simply want to delay the process until May
27, anticipating that they could be better-placed
in whatever scenario unfolds due to their
Media reports have also raised
fears that Maoist leaders in the government could
use this confusing political period to collect
money through inappropriate means. It is widely
perceived that corruption has become commonplace
ever since Maoist leader Bhattarai was chosen to
lead the present coalition last August.
The Maoist's coalition partners include a
front of small regional parties based in southern
flatlandcalled Terai that has become notorious for
graft. Meanwhile, Prachanda, the top Maoist
leader, himself has become the target of stinging
public criticism his luxurious lifestyle.
In February, Prachanda shifted his
residence to a spacious, newly-built house in a
posh district of Kathmandu. Media reports even
suggested that he owned the house. In response,
the "party headquarters " came out with a
strongly-worded statement scolding the media. The
statement tried to clarify that the house, with
some parking space, was a rented property, and
that the monthly rent was 103,000 Nepali rupees
However, inquisitive newspaper
men refused to be silent and illustrative reports
subsequently found the house had been bought at a
price of 150 million rupees. The government
revenue office was told that it cost only 50
million, seemingly an attempt at tax evasion.
While critics have said this is a case
which should have promptly attracted the attention
of anti-corruption agencies, the most powerful of
these, the Commission on Investigation on Abuse of
Authority (CIAA), has been left without
commissioners for about five years.
seems Bhattarai, well aware of this anomaly, is
not taking timely action to fill in these
vacancies and make the agency functional, leading
to speculation that the appointments are being
deliberately deferred to prevent any possible
enquiries by the agency on Maoist leaders.
Nilamber Acharya, the head of the
assembly's main drafting committee, told a radio
interviewer last week that chances of issuing a
full-fledged statute by May 27 are remote. The
camps are deadlocked over thorny issues relating
to a proposed federal structure, the future form
of government (an all-powerful presidency or a
powerful prime minister) and the selection of a
suitable election system.
unsurprisingly favor a communist political system
while the rest of the parties firmly advocate the
retention of democratic rule. Pro-democracy
lobbies openly argue that they didn't launch a
2006 uprising that overthrew an absolute monarchy
only to make room for one-party communist
Adding to the intrigue are
concerns that the monarchy may revive itself.
Views on the matter from the men and women on the
street are diverse.
villagers lined the streets of Biratnagar, an
eastern district, on Thursday to greet former king
Gyanendra who disembarked from a plane to attend a
Hindu religious function. "It was quite a scene,"
vice-president Paramanad Jha told this
correspondent afterwards. Jha was flying back to
the capital from the region where Gyanendra was
Gyanendra's mere presence at that
particular function seems to have shook the
confidence of Bhattarai himself. "The former king
seems to be very active when the peace process is
in its last phase; this will not be acceptable",
Bhattarai told a public gathering on Saturday.
Currently, the only pro-monarchy party,
Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, Nepal, has just four
seats in the assembly. But the party president,
Kamal Thapa, contends that the mandate of 2008
doesn't reflect the prevailing circumstances.
People's frustration over lawlessness,
widespread corruption, the rising costs of
essential goods, fuel and the erratic electricity
supply is too palpable to be overlooked. A large
section of the population is already a
disillusioned lot. As the saying goes, public
memory is short.
However, the prospect of
a revival of the monarchy as a stabilizing factor,
some analysts say, depends on the perception of
Nepal's two immediate neighbors, because continued
instability here could be a constant source of
turbulence in their territories. Simmering
restlessness in Tibet is a cause of concern for
China, while the porous border that Nepal shares
with densely-populated Bihar and Uttar Pradesh
frequently makes India jittery about possible
infiltration by Pakistani agents.
worryingly is the lack of clarity on what will
happen should May 27 fall without the country
holding a permanent constitution. A loosely formed
group of former ministers and disgruntled members
of the Nepali Congress, the country's oldest
party, organized a reception on February 19, the
Democracy Day since 1951, to openly launch a
campaign for a revival of the 1990 constitution.
The group considers this a logical step,
saying that the current "interim" phase cannot
last forever. They joined several other groups to
register their protests against the Bhattarai
government for breaking a 60-year old tradition of
organizing public functions in commemoration of
the country's first democratic phase in early
In any case, the re-appearance of
the monarchy or the restoration of the 1990 basic
law is not what the Nepali intelligentsia is
talking about. The immediate focus is on how
President Ram Baran Yadav can respond should the
assembly dissolve without promulgating the
The interim statute
gives Yadav the role of a guardian, but would he,
someone expected to be a ceremonial head of state,
step forward if the circumstances warrant it?
Legalities aside, say some constitutional
scholars, Yadav might be compelled to take
measures aimed at filling the vacuum by forming a
government of wise men and women who would help
hold fresh elections for the assembly, but refrain
from being among the candidates.
alternative to this or another identical
initiative by the president would be to give an
unfettered walkover to Maoists who would lose no
time to seize the opportunity for transforming the
country into their brand of New Nepal.
Dhruba Adhikary is a
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