by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
February 24, 2001
NEPAL'S PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY SAID TO BE IN DANGER
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Feb. 20 -- Nepal's parliament turned into a battlefield this week as members of the ruling and opposition parties started fist-fighting during parliamentary proceedings over the issue of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's resignation. Meanwhile, Nepal's king may try to assume direct rule over the parliamentary kingdom whenhe returns from a visit to China next week, sources have told The American Reporter.
When the meeting of the Lower House began on Tuesday, the speaker called the Minister of CivilAviation Omkar P. Shrestha to provide a response to an accusation from the opposition parties, but as hedid, the members of two other parties, the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) and United Marxists andLeninists UML), attacked him and fighting broke out. Members of parliament from both the ruling party andthe opposition, including Shresthra, were said to be injured in the fighting.
Opposition parties have been obstructing the parliamentary proceedings of Nepal for over a week asthey demand the resignation of the Prime Minister, accusing him of involvement in corruption, failing tocurb Maoist violence and not maintaining law and order in the country.
The main opposition party in the parliament, the Communist Party of Nepal, United Marxist and Leninist (CPN, UML) has accused the Prime Minister's involvement in the lease of Lauda Air of theAustrian airlines in which they say "there is the corruption and irregularities of hundreds of dollars."
Proceedings in parliament were held up for over a week as the opposition parties found ways to prevent it from meeting. There is a boycott, lots of sloganeering and hot debate between the ruling andopposition MPs,which in turn has created a ripe environment for the nation's radical Maoists, who are fighting for the establishment of "Peoples Republic" in the place of parliamentary democracy and also against the "supporters of anti-democratic forces," a code-phrase for backers of Nepal's hereditary King Birendra.
"There is conspiracy in this, so all the parties should unite and move ahead to save the democraticsystem," an MP in the ruling Nepali Congress Party told the American Reporter.
Koirala became the prime minister in last March by replac= ing another Nepali Congress leader,Krishna Prasad Bhattarai; since then, the party has suffered a "divided mentality," observers say.
Though Mr. Koirala was elected as the president by an overwhelming majority in last month's election, the rebel group led by former Prime Minister S.B. Deuba has been demanding the resignation ofeither the party president or the Prime Minister. Koirala is saying such changes shouldcome about only "in accordance with parliamentary practices." "A maajority of MPs can change the Prime Minister," the Prime Minister had said. Mr. Koirala commands the majority in the ruling Congress that has 113 MPs in the 205 seat Lower House of theParliament. "There are so many problems in the country but the politicians are involved in the power struggle, sothere is danger for the democratic system, says S.B. Pradhan, editor of Nepal's weekly English newspaper. The country is facing serious problems, including Maoists who are killing innocent people, rampantcorruption, and the slow pace of eco= nomicdevelopment.
"The army has not been cooperating with the government, so Maoists are playing a conspiratorial game to end the democratic system," a former home minister said shortly before heresigned. Many people think that there is the support for the Maoists from the royal palace and supporters of the king for an end todemocracy. Others blame the corruption, nepotism and bad governance forcreating the root cause of Maoists.
The King is paying a state visit to China next week, and after his return, there will be a major change in Nepal's politics , a senior journalist told the American Reporter, quoting an informed source in the Royal Palace.
Some politicians also indicate the possibility of coup by the king, but that does not seem possible in the present context of the world.
"If there is the support from India and U.S.A , the king can take over,but it does not seem possible now," a professor of political science at Tribhuvan University told theAmerican Reporter on condition of anonymity.
"There is a threat to democracy, so the Nepali Congress should getunited", said Narahari Acharya, a spokesman for Nepali Congress said.
The party has initiated dialogue with the opposition parties, keeping in view the situation of the parliament, he added.
Over 1,600 people, most of them workers for Nepali Congress, the CPNand UML, or policemen, have lost their lives during the guerilla war waged by the Maoists since 1996. The Maoists, who began their bloody campaign in western Nepal, arenow spreading it to other parts of the country, mainly targeting the Nepali Congress workers, police andsupporters of the democratic system.
Almost everyday there are some incidents of Maoists and the country has become lawlessness. The United States and India are also targets of the Maoists, who say they are "bourgeoisie and neo-colonialists." So far, no U.S. citizens have been attacked. Still, the U.S. Department has warned American citizens residing in o= r traveling through Nepal toavoid traveling to western Nepal, where theMaoi= sts are most active. The country is a popular destination of American tour= ists, but the number of thetourists has reportedly decreased due to the fea= r of Maoist attacks.
The American ambassador to Nepal, Ralph Frank,= speaking at a function organized to mark the 50years of U.S.AID in Nepal, sp= oke very critically about rampant corruption and a very weak law-and-orders= ituation in Nepal.
In an interview, Ambassador Frank told one newsma= gazine, "Maoists have also made the targetAmerican citizens; they have atta= cked theorganizations known as American."
Nepal also faces the probl= em of some 10,0000 Bhutanese refugees of Nepalese origin who havebeen langu= ishing in various refugee camps of eastern Nepal for the last 10 years. Th= at thorny had notbeen resolved even during 10 rounds of talks between Nepal= and Bhutan. But with U.S. mediation led byformer Assistant secretary of S= tate for South Asia Karl Inderfurth and Assistant secretary of population,r= efugee and migration Julia V. Taft, Bhutan has now agreed to resolve the pr= oblem.
Similarly, U.S. support is vital for the consolidation ofdem= ocracy, to advance the pace of economic development and for many other issu= es that face Nepal, say the Nepalese. Generally, U.S. assistance here has gotten highmarks for going directly to grassroots organizations that have b= enefited the most needful groups. "U.S. cooperation is essential in every se= ctor of Nepal's development efforts," Finance Minister Mahesh Acharyasaid r= ecently, commending American cooperation over the last five decades. Maoism is probably Nepal's most serious problem, and the one for which the= re is the greatest clamorfor U.S. help. Just two weeks ago, in Surkhet, in western Nepal, Maoists attacked Nepal's chief justice,who escaped unhurt, b= ut six policemen and a senior official in the nation's judiciary, were kill= ed. This isthe first time that they had attacked on such high fficial. Th= e Maoist guerrillas have also killed sevenpolicemen including two children during the last two weeks.
In the words of the U.S. Ambassador Fran= k. "Negotiation is the only way to resolve the problem. Ihave raised this a= t all levels."
Chiranjiri Paudyal is head of the independent Nepalese News Agency anda regular correspondent for The Amnerican Reporter.