OPPOSITION IN NEPAL FEARS ANTI-DEMOCRACY CONSPIRACY
by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
KATHMANDU, July 24 -- The split in the ruling Nepali Congress on the issue of extension of the state of emergency the government hopes will help crush the ultra-leftist Maoist guerrillas and the announcement of fresh elections in November will further deepen the crisis in Nepal, other political parties and analysts have warned in iterviews with The American Reporter.
The split of the ruling Nepali Congress, which struggled for over 50 years to restore democracy in Nepal, will further weaken the parliamentary system established in 1990 and enhance the morale of the Maoist leftist guerrillas who are trying to establish a North Korea-style autocratic communist regime replacing the British-style constitutional monarchy here.
Prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba recommended the dissolution of the lower house of Parliament and announced fresh elections on November 13 for the 205-member House of Representatives in late May after the ruling Congress party asked the government not to extend the state of emergency imposed November 26 last year to crush the Maoists rebellion.
The political parties are saying that the law and order situation of the country is very fragile, and the government is short of money, so holding the mid-term elections, which are now scheduled to be held two years earlier than normal, will not help the embattled mountain kingdom.
"There is no possibility of election as the law and order situation of the country is very weak. It is a conspiracy to end democracy in the country," Ms. Shailaja Acharya, former deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Congress party, told The American Reporter. Other political party leaders and intellectuals express similar views.
They say there ample reason for such a suspicion in the fact that the government has not been able to hold elections for over 4,000 local-level bodies including the village development committees, municipalities and district development committees whose terms ended in mid-July. The government dissolved the local level bodies and handed over the responsibilities to the government officials.
"Now we have no democracy and the government has dissolved the parliament and the local level people's representatives. This has pushed us towards an undemocratic state," says Krishna Prasad Sapkota, president of the federation of the district development committees.
Many political parties and intellectuals still suspect conspiracy in the way the House was dissolved and the mid-term poll was announced. "[The] Maoist problem is the major problem of the country and what we are going to do without trying to address that problem," a leader of the main opposition United Marxist and Leninist told The American Reporter.
Prime Minister Deuba dissolved the lower house of parliament when Maoists indicated interest in peace talks in letters sent to all the political parties represented in the parliament. The Congress party then expelled Deuba from the party, and Deuba supporters formed a splinter group claimed that his group was the real Nepali Congress Party. The issue is n0w before the election commission, which has not said when it will rule.
"Deuba is trying to finish democracy and he is aligning with the anti- democratic forces. Therefore, there is the need of unity of all democratic forces to save democracy in Nepal," a spokesman of the party Arjun Nursing KC said.
But Deuba has repeatedly said that the elections will be held as scheduled and the government is committed to provide security to the people. "The election will be a referendum between peace and terrorism," he said recently.
A total of 61 parliamentarians and lawyers have filed a petition in the country's Supreme Vourt demanding the reinstatement of the House. The court is scheduled to deliver its verdict on August 6.
"The way the Prime Minister dissolved the House was not constitutional [amd] therefore it should be reinstated so that the problem of the country could be resolved," said Daman Nath Dhungana, former speaker and a member of the constitution drafting committee.
Meanwhile, a resource crunch is facing Nepal, where one third of the budget comes from donor countries, including the United States, and which has increased its defense budget and the budget for the development activities to try to control the Maoist violence.
According to official figures, more than 4,000 people have been killed in the Maoist insurgency since 1996, but the real figure could be much higher as the rebels cut off the heads, bury or take away the dead bodies of their comrades after they are killed in gun battles with Nepalese security forces. The government's declaration of the state of emergency last November and mobilization of the army was the first time it has made a determined effort to stp[ the Maoists.
While most of the world thinks of Nepal as a tourist destination for mountaineering. now that image of the country, one that earns it vital foreign currency, is being overtaken by another, of a nation where frequent gun battles between government security forces and Maoist guerrillas claim hundreds of lives every few months.
Nepal's immediate neighbors, China and India, and the United States have fully supported the government. "This is war against terrorism and we fully support Nepal government's efforts to contain the guerrillas' violence," a diplomat in Kathmandu told The American Reporter.
Nepal's donor countries, meeting held last month in London, also reiterated their full support for the government but also urged it also to "control corruption and pay attention to good governance."
The Bush administration has asked the Congress to provide $20 million in military aid to Nepal. The U.S. also provides $38 million in development aid to Nepal. "Nepal's democracy needs support and we provide both development and security assistance to Nepal," an official of the U.S. embassy in Kathmandu said.
"With the mobilization of the army, the Maoist guerrillas are being defeated, people's awareness has increased and the donor countries are also cooperating; therefore, there is no threat to democracy in Nepal," a prominent leader of the main opposition party said. "Those who try to finish democracy will themselves be flushed out," he added.
King Gyanendra, who visited China and India after recently becoming the King of Nepal following the assassination of all the King Birendra and his family members at a royal dinner party by crown prince Dipendra last year, has repeatedly expressed his commitment to the country's constitution and has promised to respect democratic values and norms.
"There is the need of support of friendly countries to strengthen democracy in Nepal but Nepal's democracy is moving towards maturity", a Western diplomat said.
Chiranjibi Paudyal is head of the National News Association of Nepal, an independent news agency, and was a U.S.IA Journalism Fellow in 1999.