SOS to South Asia

From The Kathmandu Post (13 September, 2013)

Nepal’s democracy is being manipulated beyond the point of no return. Does the regional and international community really believe all is going well?

Each corner of South Asia has its own challenges—Bangladesh bogged down in two-party tribalism, Pakistan engulfed in sectarian killings, Sri Lanka trapped in a rule-by-clan and burgeoning socio-political problems in India, at the Centre and in the states. The intelligentsia of South Asia, insularly focused on near-at-hand problems and un-informed because of neglect by world media, believes that Nepal, exceptionally, has been on the mend after the conflict ended in 2006. There is little on the ground to justify this belief; though we started well.

It has been seven-and-half years since the ten-year conflict ended but the peace-dividend is nowhere in sight. Coming above ground, the Maoists bamboozled the all-important international community (including India) and proceeded to cheat on their commitment to competitive politics. Having mastered the art of looting the exchequer, neutralising the Kathmandu civil society and intelligentsia and stoking inter-community anxiety, they are today firmly in the leadership position in the national establishment.

The period since 2006 has seen further impoverishment of the populace, as seen in the accelerated departure of our poorest to low-end jobs in India, the Gulf and Malaysia. Industry continues to be stifled, employment-generation is even more of a mirage, load-shedding of electricity is set to reach 18 hours a day and tourism remains low-end—hard-to-believe for a country with a monopoly over half the Himalayas.

Grand old parties

The resilient Nepali state has been run to the ground by a calibrated weakening of institutions, including the police, army, bureaucracy and, as we speak, the court system. Internal demagoguery and external interference have weakened the entities meant to uphold democracy, including the so-called democratic parties and the presidency of Ram Baran Yadav. The exhilaration and hope that marked the 2006 Janaandolan—of open society, self-confident geopolitical presence, economic growth and participatory development—have been dashed.

The Kathmandu intelligentsia is cowed into silence. What used to be the radical-progressive fringe is now at centre-stage, acting as a willing smoke-screen to protect the intended Maoist path to long-term rule. Last week, one prominent columnist compared Chairman Dahal’s arrogant owning up to the murder and atrocities of the conflict era to BP Koirala’s taking moral responsibility for the acts against the Panchayat autocracy in the 1970s. One after another, the columnists rail against criminal investigation into war crimes, ‘transitional justice’ being their suddenly  discovered mantra, even though the relevant ordinance is designed to deliver general amnesty.

The Western world, more influential in Nepal than anywhere else in South Asia and once-upon-a-time rather active on behalf of human rights and democracy, has been a silent witness to this rise of demagoguery. Having outsourced Nepal policy to India, seemingly on the altar of ‘great game’ geopolitics vis-à-vis China, the ambassadors studiously study the ceiling. New Delhi, for its part, may not even be aware that a rogue policy operates on Nepal, going back to the mid-2002 deal between the Maoist leadership and the ‘agencies’ (see SD Muni, Nepal in Transition). South Block may be trying to re-establish control over Nepal policy—mark the sudden effort to energise the democratic parties through a series of meetings in New Delhi, with everyone but Pushpa Kamal Dahal pointedly allowed a meeting with Congress Chair Sonia Gandhi. But this gesture may have come too late, given the ability of money, violence and the continuing machinations of ground-level apparatchiks to weaken the ‘grand old parties’ of Nepal.

Peace offering

It will be hard for the second Constituent Assembly (CA) to write a constitution given the deals made in advance of the elections, and it is not even a matter of taking along the agitating 33 parties led by the splinter Maoists that called Thursday’s banda. The ‘democratic’ parties have not been able to counter Dahal’s skull duggery and we are set once again for a CA-II of 601 members without any kind of framework agreement to address the causes of the CA-I flameout.

CA-II will be even more fragmented than the last CA due to the cancellation of any ‘threshold’ figure of votes received for membership. Parties fielding candidates in less than 30 percent of the constituencies need not be ‘inclusive’, which will specifically disfranchise the plains Dalits.There is to be no electoral vetting worth the name, which means that in a society emerging from conflict and with the Maoists ascendant, candidates accused of war crimes—disappearances, torture, killings—are all set to fight and win elections with the help of hard cash and fear-mongering.

The last election exercise of 2008 was administered by the Election Commission as if it were a part of the peace process and that was a breach of faith on the citizenry. The upcoming elections are again being organised as a peace offering (to Chairman Dahal).

The only hope now is for an election that is free and fair, howsoever flawed the prerequisites. But one may question the ability of a government run by a man subservient to Chairman Dahal, a man seemingly unbound by moral or constitutional obligations, to deliver such an election.

The un-accountable

The immediate agenda seems to be to destroy the credibility of the courts through the aegis of Government Chairman-cum-Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmiand to hound independent civil society and human rights activists through the unique choice of Lokman Singh Karki as head the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). Even those with their heads firmly in the sand would know that both appointments were made on the basis of midnight visitations, with the democrat-politicians surrendering on the face of badhyata (compulsion) of some malevolent dark force whose identity they will not publicly divulge.

Regmi has emerged as the primary practitioner of un-accountability. He has ensured the subservience of the Supreme Court to the anti-democratic agenda by holding back on permanent judgeship appointments, keeping hopefuls dangling on temporary appointments. Regmi’s shadow has fallen over the entire court system and the Attorney General’s Office. At the very apex, he has been able to cancel the writs challenging the constitutional validity of his own appointment as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and postpone indefinitely writs challenging Karki’s appointment as head of CIAA. Meanwhile, Regmi has refused to lift a finger to extend the term of the members of the National Human Rights Commission, due to expire next week. Despite desperate appeals from President Yadav, among others, Regmi has deliberately kept the appointment of other CIAA commissioners pending in order to give Karki a free hand—to do what it is planned that he will do.

Karki, of course, has no business heading the CIAA, given that the Commission itself has passed strictures against him for corruption, and the Rayamajhi Commission found him culpable in subduing the 2006 Janaandolan. Incredibly, the polity is now trapped for six long years, for that is the length of Karki’s appointment-by-ordinance. He cannot be impeached other than by a two-thirds vote in the future CA, during which time he will be a willing tool for whichever force wants to keep a handle on the national polity.

There are more than 15,000 accreditedlawyers in the country but Karki’s opening salvo was aimed at Shambhu Thapa.The former chair of the Nepal Bar Association is being investigated ostensibly for tax evasion, without due process, and with a raid on his office last week with the Armed Police in attendance as if he were a fugitive. Thapa was a civil society stalwart of the 2006 Janaandolan and the main public figure standing (with most others having run for cover) against the attempt to run society to the ground through the dual appointments of Regmi and Karki.

The silence that has greeted Thapa’s targeting will have emboldened the Regmi-Karki combine to go after others who are critical of their elevation and agenda. The witch-hunt may have finally begun.

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