The current abstention of the 33 opposition parties in the CA election will not help fulfill Nepali people’s democratic voting aspirations or lend credence to Nepal’s international democratic stature.
The Big Question: will the 33 opposition parties led by Mohan Baidya from the CPN-Maoist breakaway faction be a significant part of Nepal’s democratic history come November 19, 2013 despite repeated refusal to talk to the Regmi government, the HLPC or the international press for that matter? So far they have been adamant with Mohan Baidya alleging that “an invisible force” backing the four major parties has barred his party from participating in the CA Poll 2013. Earlier they had fired a press salvo from Kathmandu stating all dialogue options had been forestalled. In contrast, the UML, the NC and the UCPN-Maoist have already finalised candidates for 240 constituencies. The Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the only Nepali democratic party that is advocating for renewal of constitutional monarchy with an active prime ministerial system of governance, and considered a strong underdog in this CA Poll, has already unfurled its poll agenda, being the first Nepali political party to do so. The Terai based parties such as the Madhesi People´s Right Forum-Nepal (MPRF-N), MPRF-D, Sadbhavana Party (SP) and the Tarai Madhesh Democratic Party (TMDP) have also come up with their candidate placements both for the Terai and Hill regions.
Why is there no reconciliatory word from Mohan Baidya-led 33 opposition parties amidst calls from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for an all inclusive and participatory democratic CA Poll 2013 and President Ram Baran Yadav’s recent Dashain message appealing for everyone’s participation in national democratic constitution-making commencing with the CA Poll? Nepal’s opposition parties led by Mohan Baidya from CPN-M have missed all deadlines including the last day to register at the National Election Commission which was October 4, 2013. They have failed to name both PR and FPTP candidates despite repeated efforts from President Ram Baran Yadav to hold an all party meeting. They have continuously evaded direct talks with the High Level Political Committee run by the four major parties for an open dialogue.
Some top international media voices have opined that the dichotomous opposition argument led by the Baidya camp is hard to swallow for any observer of Nepali politics, foreign or Nepali, since they seem to be sending out contradictory signals: namely asking people to shy away from voting because they feel government is instilling voters’ fear and personal insecurity; and themselves creating that insecurity bond by threatening to mar the CA Poll “peacefully” through various bandhs and newly planned election ‘unrest’ activities. International observers on Nepal are closely watching these events unfurl with cautious eyes, since a democratic election is indispensible to Nepal’s economic and constitutional future. It is the only way out, since no consensus government can be formed at this hour. The EU has already posted more than 100 election observers, and more countries are expected to follow suit.
Nepal’s first CA Poll held in 2008 was an expensive affair which also saw bloodshed. Nearly 50 people were killed in various recorded incidents. This year’s CA Poll might also have possible violence and is not something for anyone to guess on. One candidate from the CPN-UML Mohammad Alam from Bara-4 precinct was recently shot and succumbed to his injuries in a Kathmandu hospital. Violence is bound to happen if the opposition presses on with their demands. Besides, from which ever quarter such violence might be instigated, it will still be the 33 party opposition groups that will be given a double red card penalty by the international democratic club making their actions unacceptable for future democratic accommodation.
Mohan Baidya terms himself a nationalist democrat first and foremost, and sees his leadership steeped in that effort. However his vision to see an all inclusive CA Poll 2013 happen can only be realized if he convinces his followers to join the Nepali democratic mainstream by registering themselves with the National Election Commission. Some of Baidya’s party compatriots have even gone on record making statements against Nepal’s international and regional friends casting aspersions on their “hegemonic desires” which is baseless. The international community in Nepal truly cares about Nepal and the Nepali people, and that includes Nepal’s two excellent friends China and India extending right up to the United States, the United Kingdom and the G-8 club. A few comments from the 33 party opposition will not mar their notable work in development which is aimed at eventual prosperity of the Nepali people. This kind of regressive language coming from Nepal’s opposition also seems to go against international political norms in the Asia-Pacific democratic theater.
What is the way forward then for the Baidya led 33 party opposition group’s self-accommodation in CA Poll 2013? Despite adopting a “new soft stance” there are issues they still need to consider. One, it is imperative they be patient with their main demand, namely the resignation of Khil Raj Regmi. He has already made his intentions clear from day one as interim Prime Minister to stay only until the CA Poll is conducted by November 2013. Two, Regmi himself has been calling for the opposition’s participation at the same time showing visible leadership responsibility with the Home Ministry and the National Election Commission to coordinate the CA Poll 2013 preparations. Three, unlike what some politicians in the 33 opposition party camp negatively contemplate, the Nepal Army is only going to guard the people’s right to vote, and this represents all Nepali people; Nepal Army has always been geared towards Nepal’s peace, security and national stability serving the Nepali people’s democratic aspirations first and foremost. Under the President, it is also dutifully bound in this CA exercise to protect the interests of all political parties including the opposition, as long as they too serve the Nepali people. Four, to clarify the redundant, it is the National Election Commission that is conducting the CA Poll while the Nepal Army is merely ‘extending’ its national security umbrella along with the Nepal Police Force and the Armed Police Force under an Integrated Security Plan that encompasses protecting all political candidates and the voters, whether they be from a majority or minority party.
A free and fair CA election in Nepal is still possible if HLPC uses neutral civil society and human rights leaders as its backdoor channel to negotiate with the Baidya camp, though they know it will result in diminished electoral returns for their individual party candidates in CA Poll 2013.
One must acknowledge the Baidya camp’s hefty political presence in the last election, though they are now a breakaway faction of the UCPN-Maoist. They had nearly 90 CA members and nearly half of the party’s CC members. Indirectly, this factor has instilled a lot of fear in Pushpa Kumar Dahal and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai as well, namely that Baidya’s participation and winning the people’s mandate as a separate party could lead to their own party’s demise in 2013. Dahal recently extended an olive branch too late to Baidya to fight the election under one party and flag, quite unlikely to happen.
At the moment, based on Kathmandu and international community rumor mills, Mohan Baidya is more likely to support and make future alliance with a reformed democratic party like the RPP-Nepal led by Kamal Thapa which shares a similar nationalistic vision and development agenda and is also bent on defeating national corruption and bringing the corrupt to task. Baidya is also holding his betting cards close to his chest gauging the estrangement gap, where Khem Raj Regmi and his closest advisers are known to be inwardly “suspicious” of some HLPC intentions. The HLPC is supposed to strictly supervise the running of the Interim Government but often times is seen by Nepali media as trying to sway policies in favor of the major parties interests, some against National Election Commission norms and code of conduct. This could be to Baidya’s advantage in the end, according to some, where he might emerge a victor seeing the split and seize the opportunity to launch his so-called peaceful activities to partially mar the CA Poll. Suffice it to say, Regmi and the National Election Commission have so far won the plaudits of the United States led G-8 and the prestigious Carter Center which has been closely observing the CA Poll 2013 preparation from Day One and extended its all possible support. Everyone wants to see the 33 party opposition participate in the CA Polls, otherwise peace and reconciliation will have little meaning to the ordinary Nepali. As Home Minister Madhav Ghimire also quipped to the Nepali media recently, there is no reverse gear, therefore no going back, when it comes to the CA Poll 2013. This could be the truth eventually for all those participating and not participating in the November 19, 2013 CA Poll.
It might be pertinent to reflect on the role of leaders and their national responsibility using this remarkable leadership quote from U.S. President Barack Obama, who spoke in the American context, but also fits perfectly in Nepal’s context: “We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.”
In fulfilling their leadership challenge, Nepal’s 33 party opposition’s inclusive participation in CA Poll 2013 will translate into heightened international credibility for Nepal. Ultimately, it will mean supporting the Nepali people’s current aspirations to develop rapidly into a mid-sized transitional global trading zone between the world’s two fastest emerging economic superpowers, China and India. All Nepali leaders from every sector of society ought to think seriously about making it together in the November CA Poll.