Monday, May 16, 2011

Nepali Politics, May 2011 -- It's Complicated...

Nepal is currently enduring a lengthy post-conflict peace process that is girded by the issues of the Maoist cantonments and the drafting of a new constitution.

These two distinct processes are at the heart of the lengthy peace process that began in 2006 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) followed by the promulgation of the Interim Constitution in 2007 and the Constituent Assembly elections in 2008.

The Constituent Assembly (CA) was supposed to complete the process of drafting and promulgating a new Nepali constitution by May 28th, 2010, but missed that deadline and is soon to miss the one year extension date of May 28th, 2011. Yet, the final agreements on the new constitution remain closely aligned to the final decisions on integration, rehabilitation and reintegration of the Maoist army which has also been delayed.

Until there is greater progress on the cantonments, the final constitutional issues will remain unresolved.

Along with the issue of the final detachment of the People’s Liberation Army from the United Communist Party of Nepal Maoist (UCPN/M) and the drafting of the new constitution, the major political parties continue to struggle over the issue of power-sharing in the government. The present government is led by Jhalanath Khanal of the Communist Party Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist (UML) supported by the UCPN/M and the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), one of the important Madhesi party factions. However, there are deep rifts w/in each of the major parties while the three largest Madhesi parties have all split over the last year into separate factions.

It is likely as a price of extending the CA past the current May 28th deadline (as set and revised in the Interim Constitution 2007), the Congress Party, the second largest in the CA after the UCPN/M and before the UML, will insist upon a consensus government, including them, under a new prime minister. This political negotiation and calculation has taken up much of the various party leaders’ time over the past few months, leaving less time for resolving the remaining issues to draft a constitution by May 28th.

The situation will remain rather tenuous and uncertain until final negotiations and agreements are made right before the deadline of midnight on May 28th.

In addition to the various political struggles within and between these three major political parties, there are deep and unresolved issues among the major ethnic, linguistic and geographic communities in Nepal.

As all three of the major parties are lead and controlled by Brahmin-Chhetri men (15% of Nepal), there has been a growing movement of indigenous people (‘adivasi-janjati’), Madhesi (people from the terai or lowlands along the Indian border) and Dalits (the formerly untouchable castes) to ensure that the new constitution ensures the progressive restructuring of the state, including new provinces based on ethnic and linguistic boundaries, as well as much expanded reservations or proportionate representation for the historically marginalized.

Each of these communities are represented in the major parties, but they are rarely on the Central Committee or Politburos where real power lies. For that reason, the Madhesis, after a major political movement in early 2007 when they protested the lack of federalism in the Interim Constitution, formed new political parties to represent their interests. Neither the indigenous peoples (IP) nor the Dalits have successfully initiated such parties to-date, although they have a few very minor parties in the CA who vociferously advocate for their rights, in addition to the work done by the IP, Madhesi, Women’s and Dalit CA Caucuses.

Among these various political actors and parties, the UCPN/M, naturally, is considered either the most radical or progressive, depending on your political perspective. The UML is often seen as a more opportunist party willing to swing either right or left to align with the other two major parties for their own party or personal interests. The Congress, once the progressive, anti-feudal party of the 1960-80s, is now seen as more conservative in the political spectrum, the status quo ante party.

The three major Madhesi parties (MJF, Terai Loktantric and Sadbhavana) have all split into two separate factions each, contesting for influence and power among the major three parties. There are altogether 27 (or 28…) parties in the CA, including many with less than five representatives.

Along with state restructuring, proportional representation, some of the other major issues facing the country while drafting the new constitution include: the form of government (directly elected president, prime minister in a parliamentary system or a mixed system) and the type of electoral systems (first past the post, proportional or mixed system) and an independent judiciary.

As there have not been local elections since 1997, and the previous local governments were dissolved by a Congress government in 2002, all local government is being managed by government officials. This, too, is a serious, lingering issue as without locally elected leadership the structure of good governance and democratic government is deeply flawed. Yet the current political parties mostly say that there can only be local elections after the issues identified above are resolved and there are national, then provincial elections some three to five years in the future.

As they say, it's complicated...

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