Nepal king gone but republic remains restless (Yearender - 7)

December 25th, 2008 - 11:00 am ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Dec 25 (IANS) Despite its crop of failures, 2008 will remain a landmark in the history of Nepal, Asia and indeed the world communist movement, providing inspiration to communists across the globe.The decisive date was undoubtedly April 10 when, after faltering twice earlier, the Himalayan kingdom held its first constituent assembly elections, the fruit of a 10-year war fought by Maoist guerrillas, to decide if the 239-year-old royal dynasty of Shah kings would remain or be ousted. A month later, on May 28, the newly elected constituent assembly voted overwhelmingly to depose King Gyanendra.

The king, who gambled away his legacy by having tried to seize power three years ago with an army-supported coup, had his transformation as a commoner complete in June when he vacated the royal palace on the order of the assembly. The government declared the royal abode a national museum.

The anti-monarchy wave that had started sweeping Nepal since 2001, when then king Birendra and his entire family were assassinated and Gyanendra ascended the throne, also saw the king’s nemesis, the Maoists, take power.

However, though Maoist supremo Prachanda became the first Maoist prime minister of Nepal in August and pledged to usher in peace, prosperity and a new constitution by 2010, the pro-election scenario has been less than optimism-inspiring.

In less than four months, the Maoist government has begun falling out with its coalition partners, failed to woo the main opposition and lost the confidence of the people. Two major allies, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, have threatened to quit the coalition government.

On the other hand, the Maoists alienated former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, one of the chief architects of the 2006 peace pact that ended the Maoist insurgency and brought the Maoists back to mainstream politics. The Maoists refused to support him for the post of the first president of Nepal, to replace the king as head of state.

The Maoists have had to pay a heavy price for the refusal. Their presidential candidate eventually lost the battle to Koirala’s party man Ram Baran Yadav. Now, a crucial component of the peace process - integrating the Maoist army with the state army - lies in the doldrums due to continuous opposition by Koirala and his Nepali Congress party.

Prachanda’s tenure has also been marred by devastating floods in south Nepal in August, which made over 50,000 people in the Terai plains homeless and created bad blood between Nepal and India, which was blamed by Kathmandu for the disaster.

Though the Indian government and parties played a considerable role in bringing the Maoists and Nepal’s main parties together to end the insurgency, the Maoists have chosen to regard their southern neighbour warily after coming to power.

Prachanda created ripples when he chose to visit Beijing within a week of taking his oath of office, a departure from the tradition of Nepal’s new prime ministers visiting New Delhi first. There is speculation that the former guerrillas are trying to get close to China, a move that may cause tension in the region.

For the first time in the history of mountaineering, Nepal this May stopped expeditions to Mt Everest, the highest peak in the world and Nepal’s pride, at China’s request to pre-empt anti-China protests that would have embarrassed Beijing ahead of the summer Olympics.

It has been a bad year for the Maoists, who after reaping praise for the largely peaceful election, have singularly failed to honour their peace commitments.

Even two years after laying down arms, they have continued to kill opponents and suspects with impunity. The Maoist government has failed to disclose the whereabouts of over 100 people missing since the insurgency began.

Though wooing foreign investment, the Maoist government has failed to protect industries that have been frequently closed down by labour unions. Currently, about 70 industries remain closed due to dispute over wages.

There is a nagging rift in the party with hardliners challenging Prachanda’s leadership and pressing for a return to more radical movements. There is speculation that the party may split in future.

Finally, the Terai continues to be a hotbed of violence. Since the fall of King Gyanendra’s government in 2006, armed groups have been mushrooming in the plains. While some are demanding autonomy, some want to break away from Nepal and form a separate state. Others are considered to be merely criminal in nature.

The Maoist government has failed to restore law and order in the Terai. It has also failed to open negotiations with the major groups, some of whom are headed by former Maoists.

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