Friday, April 25, 2008

Don’t Subvert Mandate: Let Maoist Lead the Government says Ameet Dhakal news editor of the Kathmandu Post

First posted on 25th, 2008 by UWBDN

Nepal should, wisely, follow the Turkish path and avoid the Algerian tragedy from being repeated here. Democracy cannot move forward—let alone prosper—by subverting the people’s mandate. It’s foolish to think that constitutional technicalities can be manipulated to get around the popular mandate.

By Ameet Dhakal

Some people in the Nepali Congress (NC) are still contemplating a government under its leadership. One could have brushed this aside as a silly thought if it had come from some NC mavericks. But it should be taken seriously since it has come from people close to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. It is hard to believe that they could have floated this hard-to-swallow proposal without GPK’s consent or at least without reading his mind. It assumes a serious proportion also because some sections of the security forces and some quarters in the international community also think that way.

They are trying to make a case on a purely technical ground: Since the Maoists don’t have even a simple majority and the Interim Constitution says the government would be run through consensus, the prime minister is not obliged to resign; and if the Maoists want to remove him, they should muster a two-thirds majority.

True that the Interim Constitution does not have a clause on the formation of a new government as any non-transitional constitution would have. It envisions continuity of the coalition government. But that’s a constitutional flaw, and it should not be allowed to subvert the popular mandate of the people. The sovereign people have made their preference clear, and that should guide the future course of politics.

There are instances in the world where army and international forces have converged to block popular but radical political parties from ascending to power. Algeria is a case in point. The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won 231 seats out of 430 in the first round of the parliamentary election held in 1991, and it was well set to capture power in Algiers. But the second round of the voting never took place; the army intervened with the active support of Algeria’s former colonial master France and the enthusiastic backing of the United States. What followed was further radicalization of the FIS and the death of 50,000 Algerians in the subsequent years. The polyglot, tolerant and cosmopolitan Algeria, loved by poets and intellectuals of the West, was soon lost.

If the FIS had been allowed to ascend to power through the popular mandate in 1991, there was a chance that it could have followed the path of Turkey’s AKP (Justice and Development Party). When the AKP —with Islamic roots though not as radical as the FIS—won the election in Turkey in 2002, there were similar concerns and misgivings about them. Many pro-secular forces in this secular republic wanted the army to block the AKP’s ascendance to power. They army, which had got its fingers burnt in 1997 by sacking an Islamic president, thankfully, refrained from intervening. The AKP, once in power, further moderated and modernized itself and remained loyal to the secular constitution. In 2007, it received a resounding victory, expanding its popular vote from 30 to 46 percent. Today, the AKP is aggressively pushing for Turkey’s entry into the European Union.

Nepal should, wisely, follow the Turkish path and avoid the Algerian tragedy from being repeated here. Democracy cannot move forward—let alone prosper—by subverting the people’s mandate. It’s foolish to think that constitutional technicalities can be manipulated to get around the popular mandate.

The Maoists should be given the opportunity not only to lead the government but to lead a sole government. According to the people’s mandate expressed in the CA polls, if any other parties have the moral authority to join the coalition, they are the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) and the Tarai-Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP), both of which are new parties.

Many people, including the Maoists, argue that the CA election’s mandate was for the formation of a coalition government to write a new constitution. That’s not true. When the people—mainly the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized—voted in the CA polls, they had CHANGE, not constitution, on their minds. They voted with a hope that the Maoists would bring about meaningful change in their lives. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the Maoists to form a government and try to fulfill that popular expectation.

That said, the Maoists should not, however, behave as if they have got a two-thirds majority in the CA. They are still a minority, but the largest party; and they should be ready to share power at the top. The Maoist position on this, so far, has been very rigid: They want to retain both the posts of prime minister and the head of state. That’s an unfair demand, though their concern — that two different people as the head of state and the prime minister might give rise to parallel power centers thus complicating the transition —is genuine. But they should also understand the concern— read suspicion—of other parties. There is a big question about whether the Maoists would be ready to transfer peacefully should they lose the next election. The Maoists should not blame other parties for second-guessing their intentions, for their democratic credentials haven’t been established yet. There should, therefore, be some power-sharing formula at the top so that both the Maoists and other parties can be self-assured about the future of the transition. If the Maoists stick to their demand, it’s possible that the NC might be inclined not to give up power, leading to a constitutional deadlock.

My assessment of the UML is that they are also not willing to give the Maoists a “blank check”. There should be clear check and balance during this transition so that it puts a rein on any autocratic ambition of the Maoist party, said a UML leader.

So far as writing a new constitution and implementation of the federal democratic republic is concerned, all the parties should work jointly in the Constituent Assembly to write a consensus constitution within two years and hold the parliamentary election in another six months. That’s the moral obligation of all the parties and no one should shy away from that.

Ameet Dhakal is the news editor of the Kathmandu Post where this article appeared today

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