Nepal: Elite back to business, people back to the streets

Issue 

With the Maoists no longer heading up the government, the Nepalese elites have collectively let out a sigh of relief.

As they see it, they had a nasty scare but now those pesky revolutionaries have been dealt with. The elites feel they can go back to "the good old days" of bureaucracy, corruption, and petty political infighting and factional horse-trading within the power structures.

These conclusions are premature.

The government of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) has fallen. However, the Maoists never wielded serious power over the existing institutions. Many of the progressive polices the UCPN-M sought to implement were blocked.

Instead, the power of the Maobadis (as they are locally known) lies in a movement of the Nepalese poor in response to the crushing poverty that plagues this tiny nation. The Maoists come from and represent those in Nepal who have historically been excluded from society on the basis of class, race, region, religion, caste or gender.

That is, the vast majority of the population.

For centuries, Nepal was ruled by a feudal monarchy. A decade-long Maoist-led armed struggle and mass pro-democracy uprising in 2006 brought the regime to its knees. The Maoists agreed to a peace deal on the basis of acceptance of their central demand for a constituent assembly to draft a new, democratic constitution.

In April last year, the Maoists won the largest number of votes and created a coalition government. Nepal was finally declared a republic.

However, the elites sought to undermine the government and block any progressive change. With the heads of the armed forces in open rebellion against the elected government, the Maoists were forced to resign from government.

The UCPN-M organised mass demonstrations, calling for a new "people's power" uprising. A new government based on an unstable coalition of more than 20 parties has come into being. However, the situation remains unstable.

The people of Nepal are now looking at the "mainstream" political parties with a growing sense of disbelief. The new Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and the new foreign minister Sujata Koirala were both beaten in the assembly elections, not once but twice in separate constituencies.

These politicians come from the grand old parties of the Nepalese political elite, the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) and the Nepali Congress (NC).

Almost a month after this government was created, it is still let to fill all ministries. Coalition partners have already left. All parties in the new government are sharply divided and some have suffered splits.

With the forces of the status quo discrediting themselves with petty infighting and power-plays, the UCPN-M is taking the opportunity to focus its energy on strengthening grassroots networks and organisation.

The Maoists and their front organisations have launched a series of strikes, or bandas, across the country to make sure their demands for a new federal state are not ignored, and the unconstitutional coup that brought the new government to power is not forgotten.

The strength of the Maoists' grassroots support and organisation is clear. On June 14, the Maoist youth organisation, the Young Communist League, called a banda for the following day in Kathmandu in response to the murder of one of their leaders, allegedly by the rival CPN-UML-aligned Youth Force.

Within 12 hours, the capital was completely shut down. This reflects the overwhelming support for the Maoists.

The Maoists are in the communities working among the people, while the other parties are increasingly seen as unprincipled.

The Maoists formed government with a clear political program, for the democratic, pro-poor transformation of the country. They left when these goals were proven unattainable within the current set-up.

The CPN-UML/NC-led government has no common platform. After a month of infighting, it is seen as a continuation of the old corrupt politics Nepal supposedly left behind when the monarchy fell.

The situation remains unsustainable. The rift between people's aspirations and the reality of the current government is enormous.

It is becoming clear that no government is sustainable without the party that won the elections — the UCPN-M.

The process is proving to the Nepalese people the need for far-reaching radical change. It is increasingly obvious that the entrenched oligarchic elites will not simply give up their comfortable lifestyles in Kathmandu, but rather will fight tooth and nail to defend them — even overturning the new draft constitution that was a product of popular struggle in which the poor fought and died.

The political situation is yet to return to a state of "normalcy". While recent developments have thrown up an extra hurdle to the realisation of popular demands, the popular movement is far from derailed.