The SPA is not serious about the situation

MONDAY INTERVIEW (The Kathmandu Post)
‘The SPA is not serious about the situation’
Nilamber Acharya, a former minister and diplomat who loves to be known as a “citizen politician” is, to our eyes, a prominent political analyst who has been closely observing the current political developments in the country. He foresees a tragedy in the eventuality of the Maoists' not accepting the results of the CA poll, and suggests that the democratic forces should unite.
On Saturday morning, Puran P Bista and Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post caught up with Acharya to discuss the future of the country's volatile politics. Here are excerpts from the interview.
Q: What are the challenges to the upcoming CA election?
Acharya: The major challenge is the absence of governance. The government is not serious in ensuring a secure environment where political parties can organize their activities fearlessly in any corner of the country.
Q: The immediate challenge seems to be the unrest in Madhes. How do you analyze the six-point demand raised by some Madhesi leaders? Are they genuine?
Acharya: We haven't got to the stage where we can judge whether they are genuine or not. They have come just before the election when the state does not have the authority to deal with them. The government cannot even transfer or promote a single civil servant. How can we even think of deciding such serious issues? Only an elected CA has the authority to discuss such things. Even if the ruling SPA agrees to fulfill their demands, will not the CA re-examine the decisions later? The CA can resolve the issues freely after a thorough study and analysis.
The second possibility is that they may have been advanced as part of a strategy to disrupt the election by exploiting the genuine grievances of sections of the people. They may also be a product of a defeatist mentality because some of those who claim to represent Madhes and have put forward these demands are not sure that they will secure enough seats in the election. Still, let us hope that these demands have been raised as part of their election campaign.
Next, let me put this question: Is the current Interim Parliament inclusive? Does it fully represent Madhes? No. This Interim Parliament is less inclusive than the proposed CA. Don't forget, more than 48 percent of the CA members elected through the first-past-the-post system will come from Madhes. It is constitutionally guaranteed. With regard to the proportional system, major parties such as the Nepali Congress, UML, the Maoists and others who contest in more than 20 percent of the constituencies will have to set aside 31.2 percent of the seats for Madhesis. Why do these Madhesi leaders put more trust in the current Interim Parliament and the interim government, which are far less inclusive, and doubt the CA which will be more inclusive? The fact that the CA will be an elected body and more inclusive, should induce the Madhesis to put greater trust in it to fulfill their demands. Q: There are rumors that a fourth amendment to the Interim Constitution could fulfill the demands of the Madhesis and pave the way for the CA poll. What do you say?
Acharya: The first, second and third amendments were encroachments on the Interim Constitution. Interim means for a limited time -- and limited purpose -- and with limited power. Making amendments to the Interim Constitution means that it has failed. There could be a provision for making amendments in case of some unmanageable natural calamity befalling the country or a war happening -- situations over which we have no control. But it is not right to extend and amend the Interim Constitution over and again. If we were to make a fourth amendment, the legitimacy of the Interim Constitution, Interim Parliament and the interim government as well would be lost. The only way is to write a new constitution through the CA. A stop should be put to tampering with the interim arrangements.
Q: Do you think a free, fair and credible CA election is possible in the current state of lawlessness?
Acharya: The trouble is not that there is lawlessness. The trouble is that there has been no effort to curtail it. No effort has been made to remain within the limits of the law and no effort has been made to enforce it. There are instances where the law has been enforced in a discriminatory manner. Some perpetrators have been punished while others have been let off simply because they belonged to a sister organization of a party which is in the government. In the eyes of the law, a crime should be a crime no matter who commits it. One gets the impression that some sections in the government want to continue with the situation of increasing lawlessness and impunity.
Regarding the election, if the situation improves, it is possible; otherwise not. A drastic improvement is needed. First, the fuel supply is not regular. Second, there is no freedom of movement and transport. Third, relations within the SPA are not so amicable. The cadres of a party engaged in election campaigning have been attacked by the cadres of another party. There are strikes and bandas all along the southern belt and even other parts of the country. There are several groups who are hindering the political parties from organizing political rallies in various places of the country.
In a democracy, you can display black flags and chant slogans; but you cannot do these things in a place where another party is holding its rally.
Next, the SPA is not serious. What happened to the 23-point agreement? It was included in previous agreements and in the Interim Constitution too. It is okay that they reiterated their commitment to it, but why can't they put it into practice? Similarly, even though the nation is passing through a difficult period, the cabinet meeting is not being called regularly and urgent decisions are not taken. The country's leaders are not giving time and due attention to their tasks as demanded by the seriousness of the situation.
There is non-governance wherever you look. There is failure and insecurity everywhere. There is scarcity all over the country. There is no water, no electricity, no security, nothing. This shows that the government is not serious about the country's deteriorating condition.
Q: Why has the government become so frail?
Acharya: It is generally said that such situations arise when there are opposing ideologies working together, for it is hard to take prompt decisions under such conditions. But this cannot be the cause all the time. I think there are some elements within the government who don't want the situation to become normal. These elements want to show that the government has been a failure. There could be some elements who want to destroy the achievements of the April uprising too.
There are elements who are guided by dreams of utopia and others with fantasies of reviving the past. One side wants to go back while the other wants to achieve the unachievable. At one point, they even tried to join hands and block what is achievable and realistic -- the recent attempt to unite so-called republicans and nationalists, i.e., the people in the circle of the royal palace who “love the country very much”, according to Prachanda's words.
The CA should pave the way for the development of the country within the framework of the normal multiparty democracy as understood internationally. And this is not to the liking of these elements. Why would regressive elements and ultra-leftists easily let things happen which are not in their interests?
Let me put it plainly. If the Maoists think that they cannot capture the state or secure enough seats to keep their hold on power, will they support the election process? Of late, we have heard their leaders of saying they want to capture state power through the CA election if possible, and if not by waging an insurgency.
The Maoists have not been democratized yet. There are two streams within the Maoists -- one which is for a realistic democratic path and another which is ultra-leftist. Besides the ultra-leftists and regressive elements, those who do not want to see the country following a normal democratic pattern could come from different groups. One of them could be revenge seekers. During such a time, criminal elements can also operate, and they do so under some political guise. Moreover, we must be cautious of any attempt to make our country a testing ground for utopian ideas or strategic principles.
The leaders of the major political parties have failed to see these dangers and change their behavior accordingly.
Q: What will happen if the government fails to hold the election on schedule?
Acharya: If the government holds the election without improving the current anarchic situation, it will invite disorder. If it fails to hold the election, there will be even more disorder. In either case, there's going to be a mess. So there is no alternative to bringing the situation under control and making the election possible and its results acceptable. For that to happen, stringent measures should be taken--political steps, administrative steps and security measures.
Q: An Indian delegation has returned after its four-day visit to Nepal. Do you think it will have any positive impact on Nepali politics?
Acharya: Generally, every country can take its neighbor's advice normally. The Indian delegation paid a goodwill visit; that is ok. They can advise, but it is up to us how we handle things here. But our friends from the international community including India should be aware that we are at a very sensitive and delicate time. Even ordinary truths and general principles uttered take on different colors in such a context. If anyone arrives at election time and says that this is not sufficient or that we have to be more inclusive, then there are chances that the agitating parties may be encouraged by such utterances. Even an innocent remark can have a negative effect during sensitive times of conflict or election. So everybody should understand the sensitivity of the hour and be careful of their expressions.
Q: Even if the government negotiates with the United Madhesi Front, there are chances that armed groups will come forward to disrupt the CA poll. Under such a situation, do you see Nepal suffering a tragedy like in Kenya? Do you see a chance of the military stepping in?
Acharya: Let us not rush to such judgments. Election time is a very sensitive moment. Though we may foresee some of the possible happenings, we should not make them public and create panic. If we bring them to the public's notice, it may be counterproductive.
We are in the process of rebuilding Nepal. Therefore, it is obvious that those who have an interest in the old structure are not going to make it easy for us. The political parties should understand the gravity of the situation. It is naive to think that we can easily suppress the elements that have been around for ages. It is the responsibility of the parties. They must prepare themselves for the challenges. They should take measures to strengthen themselves, expand their support base and consolidate their ties with the masses.
Second, if we want to restructure the state based on a utopian ideology such as the ultras among the Maoists are envisioning and jump forward, it will also create disturbances. The democratic forces should be apprehensive of the risks involved and be prepared to face any challenge whatsoever. I wonder why the NC and the UML cannot forge a solid understanding and combine their efforts even at such a critical time. Their united endeavors would have helped bring into the main democratic stream those who are still vacillating or are prone to fall into the trap of ultras and regressive forces.
Next, the April uprising had two major goals -- ending the monarchy and ending the so-called People's War. The Maoists felt that they could not win the war and capture the state, so they agreed to negotiations and a peaceful movement. The Maoists had started their war with the aim of capturing state power and establishing a people's democracy in the Maoist style in place of the western-style parliamentary democracy. They failed to do so because there were such political forces as the NC and the UML, and a state with its army intact. The NC and the UML should understand that the Maoists could run for the CA as a strategy to achieve their original goal of state capture, and that the more powerful the democratic forces become, the more they can bring the Maoists into the democratic line.
So, the two (NC and UML) should understand that there is a big challenge when they are poised to restructure the state. Be prepared. It is discernible in the Maoists, particularly in their mood swings and shaky decisions that they have a goal. They have said that they would capture the state through an armed-struggle if they failed to do it through the CA.
Next, the Maoists have never admitted that they have denounced arms. On the contrary, they are warning that they will raise arms if the election does not yield the desired results. How can one check the spread of violence and proliferation of terrorist groups if a major party in power is for legitimizing violence in politics? This should be understood by the democratic forces.
If a party in the government does not respect the law of the land, others will obviously be encouraged to resort to violence.
If we do not analyze these things and act without thinking, we will face new tragedies, not like that of Kenya, but there will be violence at multiple levels.
Q: Why didn't the civil society guide the parties?
Acharya: The civil society cannot compel the political parties; it can only express an opinion. They are not political actors.

Source: The Kathmandu Post, 2008-02-17 21:04:47 (Server Time)

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