Nepali Times
State Of The State
The Quagmire


KALMAR (Sweden) - News from home makes the gloomy weather of this strange city even more unbearable. Faced with ubiquitous questions about the state of Nepal, I often take resort to the time-tested explanation and say that these are just the pangs of political growth.

But are we?

It is looking more and more like the phase of institutional decay, and nothing illustrates that as starkly as the strange declaration of the Election Commission, which dithered for far too long to
reach indecision on the Congress legitimacy issue.

A political party with over half a century of history has been held hostage to an arbitrarily interim recognition. And by default, the controversial declaration has also challenged the legitimacy of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's government. In asking Deuba to register a new political outfit, the Election Commission confirmed what has been clear right from the outset: the country was being administered by a partyless prime minister who had lost the moral authority to govern the moment he was expelled from his party.

Earlier, the Supreme Court did give the drowning government a straw to hold by declaring that the dissolution of Pratinidhi Sabha was constitutional, and that there was no anomaly between a state of emergency in the country and the general elections. But that's too weak a thread to lift the Deuba cabinet from the status of a caretaker government.

The present government has neither the legitimacy nor the authority to do anything other than hold the parliamentary elections. Unfortunately, the chances that it can hold elections as promised are rather remote. The government-and the country along with it-is in a quicksand of its own making. The harder it tries to extricate itself, the deeper it sinks.

Unfortunately, other political forces seem as perplexed. Despite his ability to inflict heavy casualties on the army and the verbal bravado that he comes up with after every battle, Comrade Prachanda perhaps knows quite well that the Maoist insurgency is a "war" that he can never win without losing the country in the process. That's precisely the risk that even the most hard-boiled royalist of the Panchayat school would be unwilling to take.

A compromise needs to be worked out to save the country from becoming a failed state, but no one seems to have a clue on how to go about it. It is a challenge that can be turned into an opportunity by the political parties of the country if only they could get out of their collective coma. The Deuba Company had no legitimacy, so it went about dismantling the credibility of all national institutions. It has succeeded to such an extent that political parties of the country seem to have become their own worst enemies.

How could the national parties fool themselves that elections were a possibility without getting the Maoists on board? How did they get hoodwinked into this mass hallucination? Political parties must rethink their strategy and change their priorities and begin at the beginning all over again.

Fortunately, the seed of democracy-sovereignty of the people-still survives. Starting from there, it should not be too difficult for all political forces of the People's Movement of 1990 to arrive at a common plan of action. Since constitutional monarchy is an integral part of the Jan Andolan agenda, there is no reason for the king to be alarmed of any political coalition that vows to abide by it.

This coalition (give it any other name if you can't stand GP Koirala and his Broad Democratic Alliance) can then begin negotiations with the Maoists in right earnest. The present government doesn't have either the mandate or the political legitimacy to talk to Maoists. A constitutional king, by definition, can't be party to any political bargaining.

So who talks to Maoists if all other political forces opposed to their violent methods don't come together to the fore? We already know that high-wire human rights activists can take us on the road to peace only so far, and it is the political parties that have to take over.

Once such a political force comes into being, the government will have no option but to behave-expel tainted ministers, trim the cabinet and be answerable to the legitimate political parties of the country in the Upper House.

If not, the alternative of an all-party government led by the Speaker will still be there. Indeed, there is no need to explore the possibilities of a handpicked technocratic ministry under Article 127 of the constitution. The very idea of a non-political cabinet reeks of authoritarianism. Apart from bringing the Maoists back into the mainstream politics, the other main priority of the political alliance has to be the extension of the term of the local government units until their fresh elections are held.

Parliamentary elections can wait for now, local elections can't.

And it's no use blaming IGP Pradeep Sumshere for saying something that each one of us knows to be true: for elections to be of any use, it needs to be postponed. The storm doesn't cease to exist just because an ostrich has its head nicely buried in the sand.

It's time to think the unthinkable: we aren't going to have elections any time soon, so we better brace ourselves for an uncertain Dasain. Another sad thought in a faraway country where sadness is said to be a national characteristic: why is it that common sense is so uncommon among Nepali politicians?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)