For more than a decade and a half now, Nepal has faced one or another form of political crises, over-shadowed by misunderstanding among political parties all in the name of promoting Nepali democracy. This includes the Maoists who have joined the democratic mainstream. In the middle of 2009, Nepali people are showing growing impatience in not being able to enjoy the true fruits of democracy, the worst case scenario being young, fresh college graduates increasingly joining the unemployment line in droves, which hovers around 49%. Today’s Nepal compared with the peaceful country it was two decades back is rife with daily strikes, bundhs, and political street demonstrations, which all are a due to a lack of national political attention to evolve effective rule of law and good governance structures.
Recently, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General, had expressed felt caution on the Nepali peace process encouraging more flexibility and political understanding. Now, US Assistant Secretary of State for Mid and South Asian Affairs Robert Blake in an interview to AP, has called for Nepali political parties to stop squabbling and to work more seriously towards consolidating the Nepal peace process. What is highly encouraging about the Associated Press (AP) interview of Mr Blake earlier this week is that he has suggested Nepali political actors should keep aside their petty political interests and focus on preserving the national interest. Mr. Blake suggests, “There's a sense of drift, and that drift can be very dangerous if the people of Nepal perceive that their elected leaders are not taking seriously their responsibilities. And so there's a risk of instability under those circumstances.”
Nepal has already faced serious instability due to a decade long Maoist civil conflict started in 1996 that left nearly 13,700 dead which included Maoists, the government troops and the helpless population caught in conflict zones. Thousands were displaced as a result. The fact remains, even after the 2006 historic Peace Accord, there is no definite initiative or desire for a more permanent peace inking among Nepal’s top political leaders who seem increasingly focused on capturing state power through any means possible. Instead of blaming themselves, they blame “foreign hands”. Instead of seeking the Nepali people’s consent, they plead to foreign powers for ‘intervention’. Simply put, no one wants to leave Baluwatar, the Prime Minister’s quarter, once having won the political right to enter its doors. There is a saying in Kathmandu these days: what is decided in Singha Durbar (the government’s main secretariat) is completely overshadowed by what is guessed by the inhabitants of Baluwatar.
In a short span of time, the current Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal has already been blamed for leading a tardy coalition and pushing ambassadorial and constitutional nominees first instead of dealing on national peace and development priorities. Even in the short run, according to some influential voices in the media, the continuation of the current government might not be something totally likeable to Mr. Girija Prasad Koirala, the NC’s guiding leader, who some state, is busy rearing his daughter to fill in his shoes. Mr. Koirala’s daughter, Sujata Koirala, the current Foreign Minister of Nepal, and quite accomplished in public diplomacy, according to various Nepali media, is tipped for a larger role. (For a factual and accurate prediction of Miss Koirala’s rise to power made by this author in 2008, which was openly refuted by some in the Nepali press, please visit : Nepali democratic aspirations in 2008: the inevitable rise of Sujata Koirala at http://www.nepalnews.com/archive/2008/others/guestcolumn/jan/guest_columns_11.php ).
What are the major challenges facing Nepal for the remainder of 2009? Former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in a recent talk programme in Lisbon described them as delays in constitution drafting, army integration and rehabilitation, state restructuring and taking the peace process to a logical conclusion. In Mr. Deuba’s view, none of these will be complete without the 'help and support' of the Maoists who have recently launched protests from the streets and stopped the Constituent Assembly proceedings. Both Mr. Deuba from the Nepali Congress and Prachanda from Maoists-unified groups are currently visiting different European capitals briefing their supporters on the peace process and the way forward to the Nepali political impasse.
Nepal’s top media voices have already written -- with inflation soaring in double digit figures, colleges and schools being shut down due to various strikes, and the law and order situation chaotic, there are signs of near state collapse, political disarray and building anarchy in Nepal. Alternatively, could this also be interpreted as a crises of democratic expectations, particularly Nepal’s earlier democratic pledges made in the Constitution of 1990, which was considered a ‘global model’ for other emergent developing countries to follow? Could it signify a fallback in national commitment of the former seven parties and the other 18 represented outside the bloc, now splintered into numerous factions, since none are able to garner enough democratic credential to rule with an all encompassing Nepali leadership base? Could it also be that Nepal’s Monarchy did not do enough or reach out far enough to address the winds of democratic change blowing across the Asia-Pacific region after the collapse of the Berlin wall? No one seems to have a conclusive answer. Supposedly, if there was strict adherence to the Constitution of Nepal 1990 and no one crossed the democratic line, Nepal would today be a middle ranking developing country. There is a saying in Nepal that if the family is to be strong the parents must first instill that overall sense of responsibility among the children. Right now, the Nepali people’s patience is running out due to increased daily subsistence woes for which successive governments have shown total apathy and little knowledge of crises management.
Outgoing U.S. Ambassador in Nepal, Ms. Nancy J. Powell, had recently stated in an interview to My Republica that the peace process could have gone faster, better and smoother if there were underlying commitment from all the political parties. She felt daily governance was a serious area of concern. Ms. Powell suggested as possible remedies to the Nepal situation, “First of all, the government can begin to be much more effective to delivering services to people. Many of the VDCs and secretaries are not able to be in their offices; many of the police and other functionaries are not able, at the local level, to protect the people. Health services are disrupted by bundhs, by violence.” Ms. Powell felt “letting the parliament to function again, having the issues surrounding the boycott resolved in one way or another so that the budget can go forward in a normal fashion -- those are all parts of the peace process. Clearly the drafting process has fallen behind on the constitution. People say you will meet the deadline but it will certainly condense the schedule for consultation with the public. It’s important that people know what’s in the new constitution, whether they agree with it or not and express their opinion.”
The outgoing U.S. envoy has truly spoken on a number of Nepali problems that beg for a democratic solution. Nepal’s two powerful neighbours, India and China, too have been stating in similar fashion the need for Nepali politicians to look inward on the peace process to politically stabilise the tiny Himalayan state, the size of Tennessee, which might otherwise prove detrimental to their own geo-strategic and security parameters. The truth is, Nepal already has a globally recognized peace process, why not implement it now? This is the core challenge for Madhav Kumar Nepal who has waited so patiently for all these years to become Prime Minister of Nepal.
(Surya B. Prasai is an independent global strategic communications, media and international development resources consultant based in Washington D.C. His views have appeared globally on Google, Yahoo and American Chronicle News Nets on international development, public health, immigration, and climate change issues. He can be contacted at email@example.com).
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