| GP Koirala addresses a meeting in Kathmandu on Sunday to protest against the sacking of the elected government by the king. Five major political parties jointly organised the protest. (Reuters)
Kathmandu, May 4: The political parties in Nepal would like to come to an understanding with the Maoists but find themselves pushed to the margins of the present peace process. They remain unsure of a potential relationship with the Maoists.
Expressing grave apprehensions about a possible settlement between the king and the Maoists, former Prime Minister G.P. Koirala said: “Two forces wielding guns — the monarchy and the Maoists — are trying to negotiate a settlement. But the interests of civil society cannot be protected by those whose legitimacy comes from the possession of arms. That is why there is a need for an understanding with the democratic forces.”
The Constitution which emerged out of the democratic movement culminating in multi-party democracy in 1990 is a bone of contention between the Maoists and the main political parties — the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) or UML.
According to the Maoists, that Constitution had failed. They are demanding a three-step resolution to the present crisis: a round table conference, an interim government emerging out of the round table conference and then elections to a Constituent Assembly which will frame a new Constitution.
Although the Maoists claim that they are Republicans, they have now said they would accept a constitutional monarchy if the people want it.
Former foreign minister Chakra Prasad Bastola of the Nepali Congress thinks that the Maoist demand for a Constituent Assembly was primarily to de-legitimise the gains of the democratic movement. “The Maoists are saying that this Constitution has failed and so have the political parties and, therefore, there should be an evolution to a stage where they should be pre-eminent. But this would only glorify terrorism and violence,” he argued.
Bastola felt that while the political parties supported a move for peace they could not agree that the present Constitution had failed. “If the Maoists had won, there would be a dictatorship of the proletariat in this country. But their armed revolution has not succeeded and they are in negotiation with an authoritarian king. The dialogue between two illegitimate political forces is being projected as legitimate. This will neither abolish monarchy nor lead to greater democratisation.”
Madhav Kumar Nepal, former deputy Prime Minister and the general secretary of UML, argued: “Nowhere has monarchy been abolished through negotiations. If the Maoists think that a Republic can be established through a dialogue, then they are mistaken. If, however, they are willing to accept constitutional monarchy, then they must explain why they took up guns, killed thousands of their countrymen and destroyed billions of rupees worth of property.”
Madhav Nepal thinks that the Maoists are not for a Republic but for a reformed monarchy. Since the political parties also want the democratisation of the monarchy, “it makes sense for the Maoists to join hands with the political parties as long as they follow the norms of pluralistic and democratic societies,” he argued.
The political parties are not clear about the long-term agenda of the Maoists. Koirala who has met the Maoists several times claims that they are confused.
“I am not against the round table conference but there are several issues on which they could not satisfy me — What will be its composition of the round table' What will be its agenda' If that agenda is accepted, who will endorse it — the king or a non-existent Parliament' As for their demand for an interim government, I said that they could join it along with the political parties represented in the dissolved Parliament and organise elections. But when I asked them what was their agenda for the Constituent Assembly, they only said that they want a progressive (agragami) Constitution' But what “progressive” means is never clarified. We have a Constitution, so why junk it' Isn’t a bird in hand better than two in the bush'” he asked.
Koirala wants the 1990 Constitution activated so that Parliament can come into being — either through an election or by reviving the old one. That Parliament could then endorse the creation of a Constituent Assembly.
The coalition of five parties which is launching a ‘satyagraha’ movement now, has a broad consensus on formation of an all-party government — either through an election or by revival of Parliament, which would hold negotiations with the Maoists and then invite them to join the government. This government would generate a consensus for changes in the Constitution either through major amendments in the 1990 Constitution or through a Constituent Assembly.
Not all political parties, however, believe that a resolution can be sought under the old Constitution. C.P. Mainali of the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist Leninist) argued that the 1990 Constitution represented a compromise between the king and the Nepali Congress and the Left forces.
“That compromise has been abrogated by the palace. Clearly it was proving to be inadequate in the present circumstances. There is no compromise between the new political forces and those thrown up by the 1990 democratic movement. This is a period of transition which requires a transitional government representing all the forces — the Maoists, the political parties and the representatives of the monarchy. Such a government cannot be formed under the old Constitution. It should be formed with an agreement between the major political forces. This government should then work for remaking the Constitution through progressive change,” Mainali said.
Leelamani Pokhrel, ideologue of an important Left-wing parliamentary party, the Samyukta Jan Morcha, said: “The Maoists will not come into Parliament under this Constitution. Do not forget that they were in Parliament earlier and left it to take up arms. So their bottom-line is a Constituent Assembly. I think that most politically conscious people in Nepal today are for a Constituent Assembly. Whether the king should be there or not, let the Constituent Assembly decide.”