It hasn’t been long since the historic moment when an autocratic despot kneeled down before the people. But the streets are aflame once again. This time it is the political parties who are the target of the anger.
It is frustrating to see that with the sacrifice of the thousands injured, 22 dead, and 38 disappeared people (all official estimates), once again we seem in not much of a better position than where we began.
True, small steps have been taken. The main culprits behind the atrocious repression are behind bars. Some laws and ordinances have been revoked. But the central questions remain unanswered.
Of these questions, one issue that the parties have completely failed to understand the ground reality is the question of monarchy. Ordinary people, people who poured out in the streets during the jana-aandolan, have no patience with the monarchy anymore. Surrounded by arm chair intellectuals and the high minded bourgeois, the leaders of the political parties have completely underestimated the strength of the feelings among the people.
A clear example was Sher Bahadur Deuba’s hesitancy to terminate any association of the monarchy with the army by revoking his post of ‘supreme commander-in-chief’. Today, people are spontaneously out in the streets venting anger while the party sits in yet another meeting to decide which names are to be proposed for what portfolios in the current cabinet.
Of course, it has been said time and again that the constituent assembly will decide the fate of the monarchy. But that is an entirely different story, beset by problems with its own.
Elections for the constituent assembly is to be held by an interim government, working either under the constitution of 1990 or an interim constitution that is yet to be drafted. This interim government has been the playground for the political parties to flex their muscles, to display their supposed strengths.
Nepali Congress has acted typically with Girija P. Koirala wanting to keep all the important portfolios including the Home and Finance ministries. UML feels it has been under-represented, as does NC – Democratic. The fight for the Speaker of the House was a clear example that the parties have not, even after four years of no practice, forgotten their old habits.
Another looming question is about Maoist participation in the interim government. If the Maoists are to enter the political mainstream they will want positions in the interim government that holds the election. Without their participation, and as long as they have weapons, we cannot possibly hold a legitimate election. The chief function of the interim government is to bring the Maoists to the mainstream and to hold elections. Other issues will be resolved by the constituent assembly. Once the Maoists join the mainstream, and let us hope it happens, another battle for portfolios is sure to begin.
While the parliament has approved that elections for a constituent assembly will be held, there are no specifics yet. What will be the constituencies in the elections? Will be the same 205 seats as used to be the case, or will new constituencies be drawn to reflect better the ethnic diversity? Will there be a referendum on certain key issues or will the assembly decide each issue with representatives voting on all issues? So far, all the people have been given are assurances, thus the numerous articles in editorials about what a constituent assembly is and what it should be like.
Let the leaders of the parties be warned beforehand, and there have been many programs that been organized for that purpose, the people of Nepal are far more politically aware than they are presumed to be. The political parties will have to bow down to the will of the people. Today’s protests are just one example of the will and capacity of the people.
The parties have to view the reinstatement of the parliament and this interim government as only a stepping stone for the more complex problems underlying the political crisis including the role of the monarchy, the place of the army, the end of the insurgency, and ultimately the formation of a truly representative democratic government that does justice of the ethnic and religious diversity of the nation. With this in mind, they have to act more maturely, much more than they have been doing the past two weeks.