Conflict resolution National consensus not political cartelling

Bihari Krishna Shrestha

With prolonged agitation mainly by the five party coalition, and the departure of the Thapa government, competitive claims for the reins of power now rent the air, even as the King has laid down that only a candidate with “clean image” should be recommended for premiership. The King has also initiated consultations with various political leaders. But the coalition has insisted to see the Monarch only in a group, paradoxically because their constituent leaders have historically been too prone to represent to the King what suits their individual interest best, rather than their collective resolution.

Since the NC, for its own interest, needs CPN-UML support to launch disruptive “agitation against regression”, the former seems to have been the unwilling captive of the “group audience” condition. The NC also seems to have endorsed for premiership the candidature of M K Nepal, the general secretary of its otherwise historical arch-enemy, the UML. Once the Thapa government fell, they seem to think that the King is now in their net and bound to relent. So apparently, to further raise their pressure, they have upped the ante by laying down various conditions and continuing with their mayhem in the streets to the utmost bewilderment of the people.

While a democracy is about rule by elected politicians, the party leaders are demanding the reins of power without an electoral mandate, and without explaining why it is not more regressive to do so. It should be noted that the country came tumbling down to its knees economically and politically, mainly because of the wanton and blatant corruption indulged in by most of these very leaders. Since the agitation fails to be based on democratic principle, the coalition is merely an exercise in political cartelling by an opportunistic ensemble of mutually incompatible power-hungry politicians.

While a few “constitutional” pundits are still making noises in favour of the parties, the lack of a mechanism to check the corruptibility of the politicians has been a major flaw in our Constitution. The parties in parliament vied against each other only in the numbers’ game to enjoy power and pelf once at the helm. During dozen years of our nascent democracy, the Constitution was not amended even once. Given the widespread popular apathy towards political parties, these leaders have, of late, admitted to “past mistakes,” but have studiedly stayed away from telling the people just how they plan not to be corrupt in future. In specific terms, how will they change the election rules so that they do not have to buy votes, and under that pretext, engage in all-out corruption while in office?

Even as the parties remain the butt of people’s anger and disgust, they remain emboldened in their posturing mainly due to the largely uninformed but unqualified support of some western countries, which instead should help our parties become more accountable. The search for solution to the present crisis must go beyond the demands of the five party coalition. Firstly, a government to be dictated by them would be a monolithic Frankenstein which would neither be accountable to the people, nor to the non-existent parliament, nor to the King. The coalition has not told the nation how its accountability to the people would be ensured. Secondly, given the nature of its genesis, the insurgency problem is not going to be solved in the short run, whosoever at the helm, especially in view of the fact that the Maoist are operating largely from abroad with a regional design in mind. It would, therefore, be unrealistic to expect them to severe their ties with their comrades-in-arm in India and return to mainstream Nepali politics, at least for the time being. While the coalition parties do not seem to have any answer to this problem, the UML itself still has to made public the contents of Nepal’s recent tête-à-tête with Prachanda in Lucknow a few months ago.

Should our domestic preparedness to contain and counter the insurgency both politically and militarily be more effective, rebel activities could gradually wind down, paving the way for normal life in few years. This would demand sustained and determined implementation of a multi-pronged initiative that includes continued peace overtures, security operations and international consultations. Above all, what should clearly come out both for the people in the country as well as our partners abroad is that the country is intent on the restoration of multiparty democracy, one that would be more responsive to the needs of the people.

Such an initiative could be managed only by a people that are united in its resolve. This should have been the top item on the agenda from day one of October 4 which certainly could not have been managed by the spent forces of the Panchayat system like Chand and Thapa, who together sent a wrong message to the people in the country and abroad.

There is a need for building a national consensus in which the governance of the country is handled by a government that encompasses the broad spectrum of the political forces and civil society, and operates within an institutional framework that mandatorily assures their accountability to the people. Since no election is going to be possible for some time to come, a body of rules and procedures should be worked out based on the Article 127 of the Constitution for the national consensus to be operative. Shrestha is an anthropologist