Nepal: Elites manoeuvre to exclude Maoists

Issue 

Three months after the historic April elections to the constituent assembly that has created a republic, Nepal finally has its first president.

However due to the factional wrangling and power lust of the traditional political elite in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal's first president, elected by the assembly, is from a party that was defeated in the elections.

This flies in the face of the clear popular mandate given to the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) in the elections. The Maoists, who had waged a ten-year "people's war" against the monarchy, scored the largest single number of votes in the elections — winning 229, 114 more than their nearest rival, of the 575 elected seats.

The Maoist candidate for the presidency was Ram Raja Prasad Singh, a 70-year-old veteran of the republican movement. Not a member of the CPN-M, he was proposed because of his historic role in the republican struggle. He is also from the large Madheshi community, an ethnically Indian group in Nepal's southern plains that have been oppressed by previous Nepalese governments.

For these reasons, he was proposed as a unifying figure.

And other parties appeared to agree. Singh seemed likely to become Nepal's first president, with apparent support from the three Terai and Madheshi parties.

This came undone on July 19, when the Madheshi People's Rights Forum (MPRF) went back on their previous endorsement of Singh and instead backed the candidate from the Nepali Congress (NC), Dr Ram Baran Yadav. The NC is the main party of the political elite and came a distant second to the CPN-M in elections.

The combined vote of the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), the NC and the MPRF was able to out number the Maoists and Yadav was elected the first president of Nepal.

This alliance of supposed communists, elitist nationalists and a group advocating Madheshi self-determination is, in the words of the CPN-M leader Prachanda, "immoral and apolitical".

These political parties, who previously committed themselves to cooperation and consensus, have gone back on a range of previous agreements in their grab for power. These parties have no common policy or ideological background, with the exception of a mutual distrust of the Maoists.

Despite the Maoists electoral victory, the established political parties have been able to undermine Maoist efforts to form and lead a national consensus government by backtracking on agreements, making outrageous demands and by disrupting the assembly.

The CPN-M has now stated that it wishes to remain outside of the government so long as this new three party anti-Maoist alliance is in place. On July 24, the CPN-M put forward three demands — that the current tri-party alliance be dissolved, for the formulation of a common minimum platform, and a commitment not to topple the government for two years — as the basis for any involvement in the government.

The real loser in the recent turn of events is democracy in Nepal. The gains of the historic elections that ended the monarchy will be badly undermined if the mandate of the people continues to go unheard, and progress continues to be stalled in a political and bureaucratic numbers game.