Recently, the US congratulated the people of Nepal on the historic Constituent Assembly's first step in defining a new, democratic Nepal with the declaration of a federal democratic republic on May 28. This was followed by similar felicitation notes from Nepal’s good neighbors such as India, China, and traditional friends such as Japan, EU and the UN on behalf of the global community. The US press release stated it pretty well, namely, that after another exciting milestone in Nepal's democratic development, it would be considered ‘encouraging’ if representatives of the Constituent Assembly continued their work to fulfill the peoples' desire for peace, democracy and development in Nepal. This is precisely how Nepalis feel at the moment. They want to see the CPN-M, NC, UML, Madhes parties and the remaining groups within the 25 party Constituent Assembly reach a democratic consensus, form a national unity oriented Nepal Government, and start initiating development and reconstruction efforts. Prachanda recently stated that by June 14 an agreement hopefully will be in place to usher the new democratic government.
The main harbinger at the moment is the election to the country’s first president, which in truth is a superficial challenge if one considers the more mounting economic challenges for Nepalis living below the poverty line. The Maoists have just recently retracted their earlier claims to Office of the Nepal President, PM, and Head of the CA Assembly, which is a result of their political exuberance given their first taste of active democratic mainstream Nepali politics. Now, with their decision to accept a civilian president, preferably one from national civil society with an apolitical background, things look more neat. But how quickly will this happen? The UML, a prospective coalition partner, believes the criteria for selecting Nepal’s president is election from among the political parties.
Seriously, it is time the Nepali political parties sat down and discussed the issues impending formation of a democratic government. As much as CPN-Maoists have won the CA polls with a simple majority on April 10, it is important the other political parties be included in the dialogue. Those who wish to oppose a government coalition have every right to stay in the opposition, in fact this is the true spirit of a working democracy. The current moral divisibility and political mistrust among Nepali leaders must be reduced, perhaps they could break away in some team spirit building session in Nagarkot or Pokhara for a few days and sort out their problems with some internationally recognized crisis mitigation specialists.
The other national concern is the Nepali economy, which appears to be moving sluggishly despite good migrant remittance and tourism revenue. It is necessary that the CA also devote time to fit the country’s ethnic and Janjatiya(earlier called the marginalized communities of Nepal) participation in economic development at the national level. This way, the Nepali democratic growth could be hinged to the country’s future economic progress.
Nepal Rastra Bank’s recent report states that the year-on-year consumer inflation stood at 8.9 percent in mid-April 2008 which was 5.6 per cent last year. India subsidizes all major food export and supplies to Nepal, which it seldom does with any SAARC economy, so such a high inflation rate should not exist in Nepal. Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat had even alerted on rising inflation while attending an interaction with Nepali private sector earlier this year. The Nepali inflation this time is mainly due to increasing global food price, according to government economic advisers, but since in India food prices are considerably stable, this does not prove to be a good alibi. Similarly, inflation was only around 6% last year, but now it is projected to double, which is unacceptable to Nepalis living below the US$2 a day income. The deficit was also Rs 5.29 billion in the third quarter compared to a surplus of Rs. 4.2 billion last year. Government expenditures are again going up, while fuel prices are being regulated below the global market price, which has now hit an all time high of US$ 132 a barrel. This has led to the near bankruptcy of the Nepal Oil Corporation.
Nepali politicians do have a whole lot of work to do on the national economy in the months ahead. While Nepal does have an overall balance of payment of Rs. 13.68 billion this is largely due to accumulated migrant labor savings and is being viewed passively. Rather, the Maoists and whoever form the next government must urgently put together an economic team to include businessmen and the private sector, so that a stable, medium term growth can be charted. The Nepal Government must sincerely work for the people’s prosperity and happiness, and the Maoists, NC, UML must jointly discuss these issues on a regular basis in future. The overriding issue right now is concluding the peace process, hatching a sound economic policy, unfurling a viable development plan giving continuation to the three year interim plan already in place at the National Planning Commission, and letting the Nepali private sector operate freely so that entrepreneurial skills are well utilized at the national level. The Maoists have promised all of these. But they must now exhibit the collective political leadership with all the other parties to revive the Nepali economy which will ultimately keep the Nepali people very happy.
(Surya B. Prasai is an independent global strategic communications, media, and international development resource consultant who writes frequently for this and other global media)
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