INTERVIEW WITH Suprabha Ghimire 'Threat played major role in the Maoist victory'

"Threat played major role in the Maoist victory"

Suprabha Ghimire, who has been elected from Kathmandu Constituency-4 as a Nepali Congress representative to the Constituent Assembly (CA), is one of the very few women scholars active in the male-dominated Nepali politics. She left behind Bidhya Bhandari of the UML by 3,600 votes.

Ghimire, a former president of the Nepal University Teachers Association and the Nepal Women's Association, says she has come to politics under her own effort and did not inherit her position from family members. She spoke to Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post about the election results, future course of Nepali politics and women's representation in the upcoming CA.




Q: You have been elected as one of the members of the 601-member CA. How do you feel?

Ghimire: I am very happy that the people have put their trust in me and elected me to the CA. The CA election had been a dream of the Nepali Congress (NC) for decades. Realizing that Nepal needed a constitution written by the people, the NC—for the first time in Nepal's history—had spoken up for such an election in 1950. This dream finally came true in 2008. I am very happy that a dream cherished for so long by my party has been fulfilled under its own leadership.


Q: You are one of the few victors from your party. Many in the NC leadership have failed. Same with the UML. So the election results came as a shock to many. How do you analyze the results?


Ghimire: In the beginning, we thought that it was a stunning victory for the Maoists. But now, going over the reports coming in from the districts, we find that there are widespread complaints about intimidation and that threats played a major role in the Maoist victory. We have been informed that voters could not cast their votes freely. They took part under great mental stress.

The Maoists were pressuring the voters till the night before election day. They reportedly went house to house warning people that a female member of the family would be wearing a white saree or that their household would become smaller during the next election and things like that. I am not talking about one district, the pattern was similar in almost all the districts.

They spoke to the people politely but with a menacing undertone. They visited their homes at 8 or 9 at night when everybody was asleep.

Despite all these, the NC still desires to support the constitution making process. But the way the elections were held cannot be called free and fair.


Q: But the entire international community and all the election observers have said clearly that the voting was free and fair and that they were happy with it.

Ghimire: We also accept the election results. But people were intimidated, and we cannot say that it was held in a free and fair manner. They threatened to kill the residents and warned them that the Maoists would go back to the jungle and that they would take one person from each family for their army. So, where is the free and fair environment?

The international observers failed to see this because the Maoists operated in the darkness of the night. Neither the security forces nor the election observers were aware of what the Maoists were doing at night. They performed their duty during the day and returned. There may not have been bloodshed or physical violence, but there was mental distress and torture.


Q: Do you mean that the foreign observers failed to monitor the elections effectively?

Ghimire: Yes, we can say that. They could not reach the remote areas. They could not travel to the polling booths, which were in the thousands, to observe the voting. Some say that the Maoists tried to capture the booths in a non-violent way, but what I say is that when mental pressure, threats and intimation are involved, that is a violent action. Threatening people is also a kind of violence.


Q: Sorry, but you seem to be contradicting yourself. You claim that the election was not free and fair, but that you accept the results. If it was not fair, you should reject the results.

Ghimire: No, that is not true. We do accept the results, but if one party tries to impose a totalitarian regime, that will not be acceptable to us.

What we desperately want is that there should be peaceful transformation of the conflict. But the wrongdoings should be revealed, they should not go unnoticed. Such illegal behavior should not be repeated in the future. Such a commitment should come [from the Maoists].

So, while not forgetting the unlawful acts which we are still looking into, we will join in and help to write the constitution. To that end, we have accepted the results.

But our inquiry continues, and we are still discussing these issues. We will be holding our central committee meeting on April 24 when an assessment will be made. By then, reports from all the districts would have arrived. All district committees have been directed to submit their reports by April 22. So, even as we move forward with our investigation, we will be actively involved in the constitution-making process. We will be giving it our full support.


Q: So what will be the role of your party in the constitution-making process?

Ghimire: You have been watching the role of the NC. Despite so many efforts to hinder the CA polls, they were successfully held under the leadership of the NC. This is a big achievement for the Nepali people. Moreover, unlike what we had expected, the election was held in a peaceful environment except for some incidents of violence.

We believe that we must establish loktantra as per the people's aspirations expressed during the April Movement so that they would not need to fight for loktantra again in the days to come. The new constitution should guarantee this and to that effect the NC will play a supportive role. If we could do that, Nepal will take a great leap forward.


Q: But most of the NC leaders — the UML too — have said that they are not going to take part in the Maoist-led government.

Ghimire: That will be decided by the NC working committee meeting, which is going to be held soon. I cannot say anything about that now. Most of our leaders have made up their minds that we should not join the [Maoist-led] government. We will have to remain outside. We will help them from the outside. We will give our full support to the constitution-making process. But we should not join the government because we can contribute without being part of it. This is what we have concluded.


Q: Why is that?

Ghimire: No, we have not made the decision yet. We are thinking along those lines.


Q: That is the same thing; why is the NC feeling that way?

Ghimire: Because what we are seeing now is likely to continue even after we join the government. I don't think the tendency will change. So under such circumstances, and when they have got the people's mandate – regardless of whatever means they have used to achieve it – we think we can support them by remaining outside too.

So it's OK, let's give them a chance. Why should we create a situation where they can complain that someone did not allow them to work? That's why one section of the NC leadership wants to stay outside the government.

However, there is another section which thinks we should join the government. Now it is up to the working committee to decide what course the NC should take.


Q: Doesn't this contradict PM Koirala's call for unity among the SPA for the next 10 years? He did say this just before the polls. Or is it because things did not go the way the NC expected them to?

Ghimire: No, that is not the case. There will be unity. We can have unity even when we remain outside. We need not remain inside to keep our unity intact. For instance, the NWPP wasn't in the government, but the SPA was united. So we will remain united since our main and common objective is to write a new constitution.


Q: There are all kinds of rumors about how the monarchy will end — some speak of asylum in Rajasthan, India for the king while Maoist Chairman Prachanda has spoken of a "graceful exit". Others hint that the king will be provided an allowance. Can you say how the king will make his exit for our curious readers?

Ghimire: The end of the monarchy is certain. The nation has decided to go republic. The April Movement, too, had mandated us to end the dictatorship. But some were still unsure whether this meant ending the king's dictatorship only or the kingship itself. Almost all the parties have decided to go republic. So I don't think any party can retreat from its decision.

We have also made it clear that the first meeting of the CA would formally eliminate the monarchy. But I cannot guarantee that it will be implemented at the very first sitting because during the first session we will be electing the speaker and the leaders.


Q: You have won the election not only as an NC leader but also as a woman. What will be your role to secure the rights of Nepali women when writing the new constitution?

Ghimire: There are several issues. Gender-based discrimination should end, and for that discriminatory laws should be scrapped. There should not be any discrimination between males and females in legal, political, social or cultural aspects. So the new constitution should guarantee these things.

Another thing is representation. I believe that without a sizable representation of women at the decision-making level, society cannot move ahead. So women's representation in politics should increase. Women should make up at least 40 percent of the representatives in the states, in the parliament, everywhere.


Q: Do you think there has been adequate representation of women in the CA?

Ghimire: Yes, in comparison to the past, it is pretty good now. Earlier, we had to satisfy ourselves with 5 percent, and among them only 3 percent would reach the decision-making level after the elections.

Still, we have not achieved what we have been fighting for. What I say is that in the new constitution there should be a guarantee that women should have representation of at least 33 percent


Q: What can an ordinary Nepali woman expect in New Nepal?

Ghimire: Starting from her home, her child and son, there will be no discrimination in education. Women will not have to feel afraid. They can expect to move ahead as freely and fearlessly as men. Women can expect their physical security and maternal and reproductive rights to increase. She will have respect, and she will feel that she is a sovereign citizen of this country. She will have secured her fundamental rights.


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