This past week, the ongoing peace process in Nepal has experienced perhaps its most serious test to date, as the simmering conflict between and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (also known by his nom de guerre, "Prachanda") and Chief of Army Staff Rookmangad Katawal reached a breaking point.
Dahal attempted to fire Katawal -- over the objections of his party's coalition partners, who protested the absence of the consensus required by Nepal's interim constitution -- for alleged insubordination. In response, Nepal's President Ram Baran Yadav ordered Katawal not to leave office, leading to public demonstrations by Dahal's supporters and, ultimately, Dahal's decision to resign as prime minister.
Yadav's response has been criticized as "short-sighted, ill conceived and irresponsible," and arguably unconstitutional. But in a column published today in Republica, former UN official Kulchandra Gautam argues that Yadav "possibly helped prevent a major national disaster by his difficult but thoughtful decision not to lend constitutional legitimacy to a seemingly unconstitutional and unilateral act of the ruling political party."
The constitutionality of Yadav's decision -- and perhaps implicitly, of Dahal's initial attempt to fire Katawal -- is now before Nepal's Supreme Court; the ultimate shape of Nepal's next government remains uncertain.
In a lengthy article written just before the onsent of the present crisis, Kanak Mani Dixit, editor and publisher of Himal Southasian, offers a critical assessment of the state of Nepal's ongoing peace process and the performance of its Maoist-led government more generally:
Nine months after the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) took charge of the government following success in the elections to the Constituent Assembly, the national condition in Nepal today is characterised by a series of absences: of rule of law, of government, of development, of reconstruction and rehabilitation, of investment and economic revival. The elections of April 2008 threw up a Maoist party that had yet to be socialised into open society, while the leadership began projecting the election win as an endorsement of the decade-long ‘people’s war’.
The public pins its hope on the constitution-writing, but the work has barely begun halfway to the stipulated deadline, because the newly renamed United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is unable or unwilling to lead the process. Meanwhile, the peace process itself is threatened by the Maoists’ sudden reluctance to abide by previous understandings on integration and rehabilitation of their combatants, themselves verified at more than double their conflict-period estimated numbers....
Nepal’s peace process has been rightly applauded for showing the world a tantalisingly swift way out of brutal conflict. Due to the magnanimity of the political parties, a sense of realism within the Maoist party itself, and an India finally willing to push its weight, in just two years an insurgent force was elevated from the forest to become the largest party in Parliament (the Constituent Assembly doubles as a legislature). But now the peace process is stuck. The former rebels have revealed an inability to rise to the height where the people placed them. While simultaneously tackling their own internal rivalries and contradictions, they ineffectually stayed on the watch while the economy tumbled and rule of law disappeared. They have proactively sought to undermine the constitutional presidency, judiciary, military, bureaucracy and media, leading the government but trying to dismantle the state. [link]
Click here to read the entire article. A subsequent article posted on Himal's website this week, after Dahal's decision to resign as Prime Minister, argues that his resignation is "a welcome harbinger of the democratisation of Nepal’s Maoists, who have chosen the parliamentary practice of resigning from government when the position becomes untenable."
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