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Another Everest.

Byline: Dr. Jan Sharma

In Nepal, sixteen rounds of elections have proved futile in electing a leader who could finish the job of writing the country's constitution in order to institutionalize the federal democratic republic and conclude the ongoing peace process.

The 601-member Constituent Assembly - a rubber stamp representing three parties, namely Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists, Nepali Congress and CPN-Unified Marxist-Leninist who identify themselves with the State - is proving a colossal financial burden on the resource-starved country with more than half its population struggling in poverty. It lacks the legal brains to build blocks that connect to Nepal's unique governance experience. Political parties keep quarrelling on most of the key issues like the concept of democracy, form of government, governance reforms and federal structure, to name a few. Having failed to promulgate the constitution by May 28, 2010 deadline, the Assembly extended its term by a year to finish the job. Now with less than five months remaining, even the most optimistic of the Nepalis are losing hope. The struggle for power has intensified.

Even the peace process is a victim of the power struggle among the parties. The peace process began in 2006 with pledge to 'integrate and rehabilitate' the former combatants 'within six months.' The 19,600-strong 'people's liberation army' combatants still live in camps, have not surrendered their arms to the state and continue to be under UCPN-M command. Bibek Shah, former military secretary to the deposed king, in a recent biography claimed the Maoist guerrillas were trained by the Indian army in India.

The United Nations Political Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which had been monitoring the arms and armies since 2007, terminated its operation on January 15. In a report to the UN Security Council, it argues Nepal's peace process risks failure mainly because of the growing differences within the main political parties that fuels mistrust among them and 'the failure of the peace process to advance had strengthened the hands of those on all sides who derided it as unproductive.' The government wants the Special Committee chaired by the Prime Minister to replace UNMIN while the Maoists want UNMIN's term extended.

UNMIN's departure does not mean the sky will fall on Nepal but India will have a greater say as it becomes non-permanent member for two years of the UN Security Council, which will monitor the peace process for the next three years. It would be better to leave these matters to Nepalese themselves given their rich exposure to international peacekeeping under the UN auspices around the world. The priority should be to integrate or rehabilitate the combatants and surrender their arms to the government. This will build an environment to finish the job of constitution writing. The Maoists insistence for both the works to go together is unfair.

Despite the Everest of problems Nepal is facing, it would be wrong to conclude that democracy has failed. It is still vibrant and innovative at the community level. Look at the community managed forestry, at the farmer-managed irrigation systems, the community schools and community-managed power distribution. These are fine examples of grassroots democracy where the stakeholders decide what is best for them. What has failed and continues to do so, is the political leadership that is thoroughly corrupt, driven by external agenda and interests, inept and incompetent, opaque and accountable only to themselves. Ultimately, Nepali resilience will have to prevail.

The writer is a Research Fellow at Sangam Institute for Policy Analysis and Strategic Studies, Kathmandu.
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Publication:South Asia
Geographic Code:9NEPA
Date:Feb 28, 2011
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