Nepal : Elections or Anarchy?
- Major political crisis emerged, with CPN M ministers in the government tendering resignations. Maoists threaten non participation and hindrances in the election process unless the 22 point proposals submitted to the Government in August are implemented.
- Hectic negotiations indicated that the deadlock could end with resolution of most issues except proportional representation. Issue of proportional representation unlikely to be resolved as it implies redistribution of seats with the political parties.
- Nepal Congress unites to form a formidable block prior to elections, passes resolution supporting republic.
- Poll preparations go apace despite uncertainty.
- International pressure on the parties to conclude polls are necessary. China indicates is hopeful of resolution of political impasse, Indian statements are more guarded but back door diplomacy is taking place.
- Terai groups continue to remain petulant. Terai Army claims responsibility for serial bomb attacks on 2 September in Kathmandu. US Embassy issues travel alert to citizens in Nepal.
- Security along Indo Nepal border will be beefed up in run up to elections.
- Second stage of PLA arms verification is progressing smoothly so far.
The Maoists "Next Revolt" Will it Disrupt Elections?
CPN-Maoist walked out of the interim government on 18 September. All four Maoist ministersâ€” Minister for Information and Communications Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Minister for Local Development Dev Gurung, Minister for Physical Planning and Works Hisila Yami and Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare Khadga Bahadur Biswokarma tendered their resignations to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. The Maoist ministers cited, "failure to lead the government according to eight-party consensus" and "lack of credible environment for CA polls on November 22" as the reason for quitting the government.
Maoists` 22-point pre requisites include announcement of a republic prior to the CA polls, release of all Maoist cadres detained in Nepal and India, integration of the People's Liberation Army in the Nepali Army, nationalisation of the property of King Gyanendra, and formation of an inquiry commission on disappearances. The government has already started the nationalization process of royal property while the proposed committee to probe into cases of disappearances was widely criticized by national and international communities. Other measures cannot be undertaken at such a short notice. (Kantipur Report).
The Maoists had joined the coalition government on 1 April. During this period there were many crisis between the Maoists and the government, which culminated into 22 "pre-requisites" set by the Maoists at the Fifth Plenum in August. While all parties have agreed on a republic, declaration of the same was felt to be outside the purview of an interim parliament. Thus the Maoist proposal while agreed in principle was to be implemented by the Constituent Assembly when duly elected. The issue of proportional representation is more complex as it would provide unfair advantage to parties which did not perform well in the polls as the results would be based on people`s aspirations.
To assuage the Maoists the government on 10 September formed an 11-member high-level committee to monitor implementation of all agreements reached between then Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) and the CPN-Maoist and efforts at reconciliation continued throughout the month. On the other hand Maoist People's Liberation Army combatants also organized protests in Nawalparasi on 14 September morning, outside the main cantonment site, in western Nepal. PLA fourth division personnel in their combat dresses demonstrated demanding fulfilment of the 22-point "pre-requisites" for the Constituent Assembly elections, salaries at par with Nepal Army soldiers and other issues. Combatants at the first division of the Maoist People`s Liberation Army (PLA) on 15 September held similar protests outside the main cantonment in Chulachuli in Ilam district. The UNMIN expressed grave concerns over these demonstrations.
Intense negotiations between various political parties bore fruit on 27 September when the first meeting of the top leaders of seven parties --after the Nepali Congress and NC-Democratic unified --- ended on a positive note. The Maoists expressed satisfaction with the historic change in stance of the NC from a constitutional monarchy to a republic. The final issue of proportional representation for the elections remains and it is to be seen how this will be resolved by the various parties concerned in the days ahead. Maoists have given the government time up to 5 October to resolve the issue. The EC is also awaiting an end to impasse as registration of candidates for proportional representation which was to start on 30 September has been postponed to 5 October.
Nepal Congress Unites
After more than five years of separation and protracted negotiations, the Nepali Congress (NC) and the breakaway NC-Democratic formally unified through a joint Maha Samiti meeting on 25 September at NC headquarters at Sanepa in Lalitpur district. NC Vice-president Sushil Koirala will be the acting president of the unified party while the party's founding leader Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and NC-D President Deuba have the second and third positions, respectively. In 2002, the NC had split after the then party president Koirala and the then Prime Minister and the parliamentary party leader Deuba had differences over extension of the state of emergency through the then House of Representatives to mobilize the army to fight the Maoist insurgency. On 26 September, the combined NC took another critical decision, to opt for a federal democratic republic. The decision is a break from the party`s policy of constitutional monarchy, which it had adopted since its inception back in 1947. (Kantipur Report).
The NC`s unification will give political mileage to the party. The NC, will have 133 seats in the House with the merger of 48 seats of the NC-D. The CPN-Maoist follows with 84 seats after merger of the CPN-MLM on 24 September. The UML is in the third position in the 330-member parliament. (Kantipur Report).
Against the backdrop of uncertainty of elections, preparations are going apace by the Election Commission (EC). 150,000 election staff and around 22,000 polling centres across the country would be mobilized for this purpose. On September 6, the Commission designated election officers for 240 constituencies. The Election Commission has also started training programme for the main trainers as part of its campaign to educate election officers, employees and electorates.
Special parliamentary teams nominated to report on election security indicated that the security for the elections was not satisfactory. A four-tiered security plan has been drafted. As per the plan, five to 16 police personnel will be guarding ballot boxes at the polling centres on the day of the voting. At the same time, a joint team of Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force will be patrolling the areas. A strike force of the APF personnel will also be kept on standby to deter potential attacks at the polling centres. Aerial patrols will be conducted on voting day.
Anticipating violence in the run up to the November 22 elections, the army Chief in a meeting with the Prime Minister on 9 September reportedly expressed willingness to help the government conduct free and fair elections. The government has not included the army in the election security plan. The army may play a role in security, depending on the reaction of the CPN M to its utilisation for poll duties given the high level of acrimony between the Nepal Army and the Maoists. (Kantipur Report).
The security along the 1700 km long Nepal-India border is also being beefed up. Nepal`s Home Ministry Secretary Umesh Prasad Mainali and his Indian counterpart Madhukar Gupta reached the decision during a two-day secretarial-level meeting that concluded on 26 September in Kathmandu. During the meeting, the neighbours also agreed to reactivate district level committees comprising of chief of the security agencies of both the countries and to exchange information. A taskforce comprising security officials of both sides would work out a joint security plan. Coordination between India`s SSB (Seema Suraksha Bal) and the Nepal Police along the common border to counter cross-border crimes is also being enhanced. (Kantipur Report).
Concerns over political and security situation in the Terai and its fallout at the national level continued. The Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF) and the Maoists were at logger heads as the CPN M Chairman Prachanda alleged that the agreement between the MPRF and the government was "extremely objectionable, faulty, misleading and conspiring from the view points of both procedure and content".
Of greater concern were the bomb blasts in Kathmandu allegedly claimed by a group in Terai. A series of bomb explosions rocked three busy market places in Kathmandu on 2 September. The bombs went off almost simultaneously at Tripureshwor, Sundhara and Balaju. Three people were killed and many injured in the blasts. A little known group called the Terai Army claimed responsibility for the Kathmandu blasts. The group was behind a few bomb blasts in Rautahat a few months back. In mid-May, at least 14 people were injured, one of them critically, when the group had detonated a bomb at a busy local market in Chandranigahapur in Rautahat district. On 30 September, the police also publicized names of four persons involved in the bomb blasts and informed that nine others including the mastermind Mr Jone aka Kaushal Kumar Sahani are still at large.
The blasts introduced a new element in the CA elections. While these were at low intensity, serialization is a matter of concern as it indicates a higher level of expertise, than that which was attributed to Nepali groups. The government needs to take measures to take firm control of dissidents so that the terror threat does not exacerbate.
The government on 20 September formed a high-level judicial committee to probe the unprecedented communal violence in Kapilvastu district and surrounding areas and announced immediate relief to the victims. The government and the agitating Chure Bhawar Ekta Samaj Nepal (CBES-N) reached a nine-point agreement on 13 September with the latter withdrawing protest programmes and expressing commitment for the upcoming Constituent Assembly elections. The agitating Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha-Goit (JTMM-G) one of the key groups in the Terai renewed its threat against holding Constituent Assembly elections scheduled for November 22. In a press statement on 12 September, coordinator of the armed group Krishna Goit said that the party would oppose the CA elections through "bold and armed means". A Terai bandh (general strike) from November 20 to 23 was also proposed. In the wake of these incidents and threats, the US State Department urged citizens travelling to Nepal to stay on "high alert" following a series of bombings in the Himalayan kingdom. In a statement released on 24 September, the US government urged Americans "contemplating a visit to Nepal to obtain updated security information before they travel."
Nepal`s unprecedented political crisis has created a strong wave of uncertainty of stability and elections in the country. While so far the process was reasonably smooth and the problems were primarily related to law and order in the Terai, now a new dimension of Maoist boycott of elections with a 22 point demand has come up. Some of the demands are clearly outside the charter of an interim administration and political parties other than the Maoists have rightly rejected the same. The key demand of the Maoists is of proportional representation while that of declaration of a republic has been partially accepted. Proportional representation will ensure electoral security giving the Maoists adequate representation in the new constituent assembly. But as this will be at the cost of other parties, a compromise may be difficult to achieve.
There is thus much speculation about elections in Nepal. There are essentially two views, one sees Maoist moves as political brinkmanship to derive greater concessions from other parties for electoral and administrative gains. This view holds that elections will be held on schedule on 22 November. Security-risks.com has consistently supported this view. This is primarily based on factors such as internal and external support for the election process and a steady course of politicization which would veer away the erstwhile guerrillas from a path of confrontation. While others feel that an organization which continues to be in the terrorist list of the United States cannot reconcile to a political process so easily. This view indicates that elections would be delayed and bases its assertions on past behaviour of the Maoists which has no doubt been inconsistent. What ever be the fate of the elections the only firm trend appears to be that , return of the Maoists to the jungles is not anticipated.
(SAST October 2007).