Nepali Times
Agreeing to agree

Posturing has become the default position of all politicians


Nepal's political mood swings keep oscillating between optimism and pessimism with brief interludes of euphoria.

It has been a roller-coaster ride ever since the 12-point agreement in November 2005. The Dasain of 2006 was spent in excited anticipation, this year it had turned to despair.

It's become a theatre of the absurd: Gyanendra in Taleju greets cheers of hired crowds, Girija in Biratnagar promises harsher security measures, Baburam in Kakani threatens to quit the interim parliament, Ban Ki-Moon in New York issues dire predictions for peace process in Nepal and Gen Rukmangat Katuwal in Taplejung says there won't be any coup.

Everyone thinks that everyone else is wrong. The Maoists think they're always right, the NC is always in foolish denial, the UML enjoys fence-sitting. But no one is really confident about the efficacy of its preferred method. While such prolonged uncertainty can breed despondency, there is no cause for alarm. When everybody is perplexed, they have no option but to end the current deadlock.

In the jubilation of unification, the NC is exhibiting new stubbornness. The usurpation of their political agenda by the mainstream parties has made Maoist leaders less flexible. Since there are no ground rules for political dialogue, posturing has become the default position of all politicians. While a war of words is less harmful than a war of real bullets, top-level leaders must ensure their dire threats don't become self-fulfilling prophecies. The NC and UML leaders should also reflect on whether their anti-YCL speeches have contributed to weakening the moderate leadership within the Maoist party.

When the interim parliament reconvenes, its members will have to recognise the precariousness of their position. If the Maoists make it irrelevant by walking out they will be the biggest losers. UML leaders in particular need to realise that there is no place for theatrics now. On the other hand, the NC can undermine the entire peace process if it insists on turning the legislature into a rubber-stamp. Issues to be resolved are complex, and of far-reaching consequences. It requires serious deliberation in an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding.

Despite the loss of face suffered by the present dispensation, this is the only thing we have to go on till elections. Alternatives discussed at Dasain reunions--a non-partisan electoral government, a military-backed NC-UML coalition, internationally-approved royal guardianship, technocratic government under UN stewardship-all border on hopelessness.

Although Maoists have worked remarkably well so far with mainstream parties, the variance between perceptions of parliamentary forces and former-insurgents isn't just attitudinal, it's ideological. Some ideological differences between Maoists and mainstreamers-land reforms, market mechanism and social reengineering for example-are irreconcilable. Bullets proved powerless to settle those issues, they can now only be resolved through the ballot. The terms of engagement, however, need to be clearly set.

Consultations and consensus-building prior to the announcement of new dates for the constituent assembly election will have to be carried out in an environment of tolerance and restraint to build trust. Since there is unanimity over avoiding further outside interference in the peace process, mudslinging in public isn't just pointless, it's proving to be counter-productive.

There is some difference over the manner of monarchy's disposal, but no doubts about the supremacy of sovereign Nepali. Then why delay constituent assembly elections? Mainstream parties are no more sincere about holding polls, but the question this time stares straight into the face of Maoists: deferral of CA elections isn't a disaster, but any lack of commitment to its earliest rescheduling will prepare the ground for catastrophic consequences.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)