Deuba’s strategy Election or selection?

Aditya Man Shrestha:

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is enthusiastic about a fresh general election he failed to hold last time in 2002, as a result of which he was disgracefully ousted from his office. Since then, our prime ministers have been selected rather than elected. As the unusual situation stands today, it is better to have a good selection than a bad election. But the task of a good selection is the King’s problem, not the prime minister’s. An election is the concern of the prime minister and a bad election is his inexorable choice. Prime Minister Deuba wants an election — good or bad — held by hook or by crook. Without it, he cannot survive as a prime minister and is therefore playing out a desperate game of staying in power. So at least he wants to declare it within the time- frame set by the King to justify his continuance in the office. Whether it will be finally held or not is of little and of later concern of his.

I feel a great pity for him because he is in a lose-lose position. If he does not make moves towards holding an election he is automatically out of office. If he goes ahead with the announcement of the polls just to hang on his premiership he will lose the confidence of his own party which is sharply divided on this issue. On the other hand, his biggest partner in the cabinet, CPM-UML, might desert him. That will further erode his credibility and capability to hold the elections. The Nepali Congress (NC) has made it public that it would boycott any polls to be held under these violent conditions. Who else, then, would be left to participate in the elections? A small Deuba’s faction in the Nepali Congress (Democratic), the leftover RPP and the Sadbhawana party. Some of them will also be forced to quit the fray after they will get their candidates and workers killed by the enraged Maoists. What is the fun of holding an election that is bound to be so non-participatory?

Assuming that the polls go ahead as the prime minister desires, it might fulfill, instead, a Maoist desire. There could be a big danger coming from the back door. The Maoists might follow the clandestine policy of infiltration into the electoral politics by letting their men and women contest the election as the NC and the Communist Party of Nepal did during the Panchayat period. It was a successful tactic the political dissidents had adopted to fight for democracy from inside the hostile system. Now that the Maoists have a strong hold all over the country they can get their candidates (workers, supporters, or sympathisers) win the polls. In a country where the rebels can have the transportation stop, all the markets and all the schools and colleges close down and collect millions of rupees by a simple public notice, they can resort to all tricks of the trade to get the votes cast in favour of their candidates. Will they not be able, then, to get a parliament duly elected by the people, that is as good as a constituent assembly of their choice?

At the other extremity is the possibility of over-vigilance over the candidates and the voters to forestall the infiltration of the extremist elements in the next parliament. That will necessitate thorough screening of the candidates; and those suspected of having any connection with the rebels emotionally, physically or ideologically will have to be rejected to contest the elections. We are fully aware that the Election Commission does not have and cannot have such an intelligence capability to verify the political faith and loyalty of the candidates. That will mean seeking the help of the security forces, their intelligence network and secret information to determine the fate of the candidates and decide whom to allow and whom not to allow to contest. That will in the first place give rise to public outcry and is tantamount to a selection rather than an election.

The whole exercise will look like an election being held under the aegis of the security forces. The united command of the security forces has promised to provide full security for the elections provided it is held on a phase-wise basis. That will no doubt facilitate a strict selective process in the name of elective process. The election the prime minister and his henchmen are talking about looks over-dependent on the security forces in more respects than just providing safety to the election officials, voters and the candidates. Can such an election be free and fair? Will it not look too ugly? Why hold an election that will turn out incredible, undemocratic and unacceptable? It is better to have no election than to have a bad election.

PM Deuba has indeed a different perception. He is taking a cue from Afghanistan where a selected president got himself elected. In other words, Afghanistan is inspiring him to make an election and a selection synonymous. President Karzai was a selected one who got himself duly elected. The same phenomenon is going to be re-enacted in Iraq where PM Allawi, a selected man, to begin with, will similarly get elected in the polls just held amid violence. There might be few similarities between these countries and Nepal. But there is no Article 127 in those countries and leaves no room, as far as Nepal is concerned, for Deuba to compare himself with President Karzai of Afghanistan and Prime Minister Allawi of Iraq. Till this article is in force, it is the King who holds the state power and is responsible for the selection and a fair and free election that is out of the question at present.

Shrestha is coordinator, Volunteers Mediators Group for Peace