Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Who'll blink first?


This country needs a government. For months, we have had a lame-duck administration, waiting for direction from the top. The political class was initially busy signing agreements and trying to hold elections. After taking weeks to digest the poll outcome, they are back to the politics of brinksmanship for a slice of power.

This process of bargaining is natural given that the mandate is fractured and calls for a degree of power sharing. It is understandable for the rhetoric of all sides is directed at their respective constituencies. And it may even turn out to be positive by institutionalising a system of checks and balances.

But it has dragged on too long, got too acrimonious, lulled the popular enthusiasm generated by the polls, and come close to subverting the mandate. All this while the suffering on the ground is increasing.

It is not only the fuel crisis and rising food prices that have caused misery across the country. There has been a surge in crime in the Tarai. What is striking is that this is happening at a time when the armed groups are at their weakest with almost no political support.

With Madhesi discontent finding a political channel through direct representatives, this could have been the best time for a newly elected, legitimate government to act against purely criminal groups and others masquerading as revolutionaries. A deft carrot and stick strategy, co-opting some of the armed activists, appointing more Madhesis as CDOs and SPs, and tightening the law and order machinery, would have worked.

Unfortunately, tackling impunity and ensuring security for citizens come very low on the priority of the major parties. The NC, with the UML tailing closely, has shamelessly clung on to power and constantly shifted goalposts. Don't these parties realise this was a vote against them? Instead of looking for reasons to explain the defeat, carve out a positive agenda, build an organisation, the NC leaders are competing among themselves to engage in meaningless anti-Maoist rhetoric.

The Maoists are benefiting from this stalemate. They are reaching out directly to people through rallies and corner meetings, using the same organisational structure which won them the polls. And the message is: the NC and the UML are cheating us of the right to lead. The NC and the UML stand is suicidal.

The Maoists have not helped. The other parties may have tried to cash in on the Ram Hari murder, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the order to kill him came from the very top. Prachanda's speech at Tundikhel last Friday reinforced apprehensions about their commitment to basic freedoms. He may not like Kantipur because Kantipur does not like him and his party. If he wants to complain about coverage, he should send letters to the editor. But he has no right to threaten and warn anyone.

The 12-point agreement was actually a one point agreement: the Maoists agreed to accept norms of democracy and human rights, the political parties promised to turn republican. The parties may have dragged their feet but they have done their bit. The Maoists, to be fair, gave up the war and have also travelled a long distance in two years.

But they have to stick to the November 2005 pledge. The international community, particularly the northern Europeans who seem to think Maoists are like early 20th century social democrats, must stop romanticising the former rebels and instead use their influence to push this point.

The present deadlock is over the presidency. The NC and the UML see it as a post to counter the Maoists. And who better than a political trickster like Girija Koirala to use a ceremonial post for political purposes? The Maoists, if their rhetoric and private instructions to party cadre are any indicator, will not allow Girija to head the state. But their claim for both president and PM does not hold. If the position is to be truly ceremonial, then a compromise candidate (a Madhesi, a woman, or a Madhesi woman) may be an excellent symbolic step.

In this who blinks first game, spare a thought for all the voters of 10 April who are waiting to see the change they had been promised.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)