Elections and the un-democracy

From The Kathmandu Post (7 May, 2013)

On Tuesday, Baburam Bhattarai tweeted, “Consensual mode of democracy we are trying to practice was responsible for demise of 1st CA & is responsible for current deadlock. Think over!” The person who drafted the Maoist proposal for the new constitution, meant to create a one-party regime, has obvious animosities against consensus. He, who led the charge against the drafting of a democratic constitution, now says he wants two-thirds majority in the new Constituent Assembly (CA) for his undemocratic party and 30 years in power.

For Bhattarai and his chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, democracy, elections, pluralism, nationalism, identity, equality, inclusion, consensus, etc are just words to be used to keep them on top of the party and people as rich feudal overlords. No price is too high to achieve that status, including consorting with foreign spooks and writing beseeching letters to the prime minister of another country, viz. India.

Fraud detector

And so today we are asked to believe, following the Hetauda convention of February 2013, that the UCPN (Maoist) has truly turned a new leaf, abandoned violence, embraced multi-party democracy and is committed to economic growth and employment generation.

A simple fraud detector test can tell if the party has indeed abandoned its ideology of violence: how is it that murder convict Bal Krishna Dhungel continues to share podiums and helicopter flights with Dahal and Bhattarai? And how does Agni Sapkota, with a pending court case for the murder of Arjun Bahadur Lama, continue to command the rostrum as spokesman of the UCPN (Maoist)?

To be even called politicians, rather than failed insurgents, Dahal and Bhattarai must be able to say that picking up the gun in 1996 was unjustified; that their ultra-nationalist anti-Indianism was a fraud; that they used communal rhetoric merely to get ahead. They must be forced to concede, as masters of impoverishment, the primary responsibility for the continuous economic disaster of a decade-and-half running. And the most important test of conversion to decency, democracy and due process would be to submit to the courts on accusations of war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law (see Nepal Conflict Report, OHCHR).

Those who advise “moving on”, to “let the past be the past” are simply neglectful of the power of memory and the resilience of the victims of violence everywhere and in this country. Fortunately, the victims have now come in from all sides to fight in the courts against the reprehensible ordinance on the truth and reconciliation commission (TRC). The citizens do not want to see on the ballot sheets the names of individuals who have been involved in torture, gouging of eyes, tearing of skin, smashing of kneecaps, the public brutalisations and assassinations, and the mining of highways and blasting of public buses.

This article is being written in Maadi, by the Bandarmudey riverbed where the blast triggered nine years ago by the Maoist party took the life of 39 innocents—children, women and men. The chain of command responsibility must be exhumed.

Presidential roundtable

The best way to challenge those who waged the ‘people’s war’ in the forthcoming elections (and to convert them to democracy) will be to ensure free and fair elections. During the election campaign, people should be free to challenge the Maoist leaders on their role in the destruction of the economy, the escalation of poverty, the tsunami of migrant labour to India and overseas.

The Maoists will have to be exposed on the loot of the citizenry during the conflict, the ‘donation terror’ that exists to this day and the multi-million loot of the national exchequer since 2006. Dahal and Bhattarai must be challenged on the plank of nationalism, for the obeisance (chakari) they exhibit before India, and to a lesser degree, to others.

The salt on the wound is spread by the senior-most leaders of the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN (UML), who have largely abandoned the planks available to battle the UCPN (Maoist) in the hustings. These leaders must have been in a coma when they agreed to a TRC bill that promises amnesty for perpetrators, to appoint a certified corrupt anti-democrat ex-bureaucrat to head the anti-graft commission and when they succumbed to ‘badhyata’ in nominating the chief justice as head-of-government.

Today, the Congress and UML leaders are not even able to stand up to those who are unreasonably pushing for the immediate announcement of an election date. With Dahal leading them by the nose as part of the four-party syndicate, they do not understand that the goal is not to have elections, but simply to announce an election date, with the goal of escalating instability.

Indeed, there is no real preparation for elections, as if the announcement of a date is all that is required. What is being proposed is elections for a CA of five years’ duration, without clarity on the function of the parliament, without an agreement on proportionality or on ‘threshold’, and with a seeming willingness to allow those with criminal records to contest elections as candidates. As significantly, there is no attempt to discuss the failures of the last CA before rushing headlong into the next exercise.

Before agreeing to an election date, which must fall within November 2013, President Ram Baran Yadav would do well to call a conclave of all the parties represented in the last CA to discuss any and all matters including the causes of the last CA debacle and procedures for the upcoming polls. The attempt to keep some parties on the outside, as a way of privileging Dahal and the syndicate, is irresponsible and will surely introduce great volatility to the polity.

Rajapakse & Dahal

One possible catalyst to bring the recalcitrant parties into the electoral fold is the resignation of Khil Raj Regmi from his chief justice-ship, but he has proved to be resolutely unwilling. Indeed, it has become clear over the last few months of following the gentleman and his actions that he cares little for the judiciary and its independence. He is smug in his position, certain in the support of his promoter, Chairman Dahal. Meanwhile, there is nothing Dahal would like better than to become a directly elected demagogue-president like Mahinda Rajapakse of Sri Lanka. The only thing left to do is but to resist.

What the scholar Laksiri Jayasuriya wrote recently about the political regime in Colombo reads like a diagnosis and prognosis for Nepal itself: what Sri Lanka needs is a “new social and political ethos based on a policy of accountability, openness and transparency, freedom, and justice, and (a movement) committed to the goal of ‘democratic constitutionalism’ and the restoration of a free and vibrant civil society.”

Like Sri Lanka, in Nepal we see today the “continuing trend towards the unfettered and irregular exercise of power without any regard for due process, the principles of the rule of law or human rights.” Dahal is at the forefront of this unfriendly exercise and Regmi is there to do his master’s bidding. Unless he surprises us.

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