Like a mirage, the closer we get to elections the further they seem to recede. Despite the Election Commission’s assurances that all the logistics are in place, there are doubts about security and voter ID cards being ready before everything closes down for holidays.
There are other hurdles. Primary among them is the continued obduracy shown by the CPN-M, which is snarling back like a cornered cat. The security apparatus couldn’t even foil Thursday’s forced shutdown, how can we be assured of a peaceful election?
After much cajoling from Sushil Koirala and Madhav Kumar Nepal, the Dash Maoists, as they are called, finally agreed to a roundtable meeting. But overnight someone somewhere pulled the rug out from beneath them and even proponents of the roundtable formula went cold. Everyone has a fairly good idea what happened, but they are not talking. Hardline Dash Maoist, Netra Bikram Chand, suddenly flew to China and came back all mellow and moderate. Only to find that now the other parties won’t negotiate with him.
The government is now readying to push through an ordinance to bring Ashok Rai and Upendra Yadav on board and Mohan Baidya and his rebels are feeling even more isolated. There are rumours of a rift within the ranks between those who want to return to rebellion and those who want to take part in elections with conditions. Which must be why the Dashes are now playing their last card: we will contest elections if you postpone it.
Given that the CPN-M is not even formally registered as a new party and hasn’t filed its papers in the Election Commission; given that Pushpa Kamal Dahal has kept many senior party positions unfilled till now; given that, unlike Maoist splits in revolutions elsewhere, the comrades haven’t butchered each other; given all this, it does look to many like the ‘split’ in the Maoist movement is a tactical move to increase the bargaining position of the mother party.
Dahal is a worried man. He knows this is not 2008, his popularity rating is at an all-time low, and his doublespeak and cash stash are exposed. His vote bank is split. He is on the defensive on war crimes. The general strike his party tried to enforce on the capital last Saturday by terrorising commuters was foiled by women who resisted and fought off hired street goons.
This begs the question: was it Dahal’s intention all along to egg Comrade Baidya on to come up with one obstacle after another for elections, using delaying tactics and trying to make sure that elections are only held after the two parties can be united again? We probably won’t know until someone decides to write an objective memoir.
Despite parties drawing up candidate lists this still doesn’t feel like a country that has elections coming in 66 days. Khil Raj Regmi’s planned 10-day vanishing act at the most crucial time for election preparations is not just a bad idea, it is totally irresponsible. His Home and Foreign Minister had the good sense to cancel, but Regmi is so desperate to grandstand at the General Assembly, he is not listening to anyone. Which is just like him.
Other events that have transpired over the past week do not bode well, either. The CIAA through the Revenue Investigation Department is engaging in a witch-hunt, trampling high-handedly on the laws of the land to harass lawyers like Sambhu Thapa. The fact that Thapa was at the forefront of the civil society-led pro-democracy uprising in 2006, which the current head of the CIAA is accused to suppressing, leads one to conclude that this is
political vendetta at its crudest and a threat to others to toe the line.
The government’s inept handling of the Krishna Adhikari murder case showed that this non-political government is actually cravenly beholden to politicians and out to protect powerful people from being answerable to conflict-era crimes. The international community’s conspicuous silence on human rights, justice, and corruption because it doesn’t want anything to offset elections has emboldened Regmi and his henchmen.
The Supreme Court’s dissolution of 17 writ petitions, including the five-month postponement of a hearing on the appointment of the Chief Justice as government head, was a significant reminder that there is no longer any separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive.
We expected a technocrat-led government to be more efficient and less corrupt. We hoped that having a Chief Justice as head of government would at least mean that there would be rule of law. None of that happened.
They say history repeats itself as a farce. That, unfortunately, may be the fate of the November election.