Former elite resists the `New Nepal'

Supporters of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) demand the sacking of army chief of staff Rookmangud Katawal on April 28.

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STOP PRESS -- Ben Peterson from Kathmandu reports on May 3, 2009, at 3pm:

This morning the Maoists in government made the decision to remove General Katawal from his position of chief of army staff after his repeated political insubordination. This follows 10 days of trying to reach consensus with the other political parties, up until a final cross-party meeting this morning. Failing to achieve consenus, the goverment ordered Katawal's retirement.

Reactionary and anti-democractic forces are trying to unseat the elected government. The major coalition partners in government, the Madheshi Peoples Right Forum and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninst) have reportedly left the government, and the major opposition party, the Nepali Congress, has small groups of supporters in the streets, disrupting traffic and burning tyres. Allarmingly, the chief of army staff has not accepted his removal, and is attempting to meet with other members of the millitary.

It is becoming clear that the political opposition, including parties previously within the government, are trying to find ways to destroy the Maoist government and to remove it from any form of power. This situation is changing by the minute, but it is clear that very important and decisive struggles are playing out as we speak.

At the same time, there are rallies in various places in support of the government and the Maoist party's decision. The support for this decision and the government as a whole is widespread and while life is generally unaffected away from the major roads, there is an increasingly tense situation in Kathmandu.

May 3, 2009, 4pm: I have just come from a press conference at the prime minister's office.

The meeting was first addressed by minister of communications and information, and spokesperson of the government, Krishna Mahara. He informed those present that the just completed cabinet meeting had declared that the actions of the president in reinstating the chief of army staff was illegal, and sent him a letter demanding he revoke his decision. He also said that the cabinet meeting had also accepted the resignations that had been presented by the ministers from the CPN (UML) and the Sabdhavana party.

After this Prachanda addressed the nation. He announced that he had resigned from his position as prime minister.

For news of the latest developments, please visit http://maobadiwatch.blogspot.com/

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By Ben Peterson

Kathmandu, April 29, 2009 -- After the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (UCPN-M) won three by-elections in April , it is facing fresh resistance by the old elite.

Nepal's elite is seeking to stop the UCPN (Maoist) push for a “New Nepal”. This has included front-page exposures of a coup plot to overthrow the elected Maoist-led government. The centre of the storm is the move, begun on April 19, by the UCPN (Maoist)-led coalition government to remove the chief of army staff Rookmangud Katawal. This follows a long dispute between the military high command and the elected civilian government. Katawal has refused to implement government instructions.

The April by-elections proved that the program of the UCPN (Maoist) for a new Nepal has popular support. Occurring in six constituencies that had been left vacant in the past year, the by-elections took place in areas across the country, encompassing different ethnic groups and where the main political parties are powerful.

This meant the by-elections were a good reflection of the political mood. Although only a fraction of people could vote, and the small number of seats at stake would not affect the balance of power within the parliament, the by-elections were seen as significant in the wider political struggle.

Despite what was widely predicted, UCPN (Maoist) support increased. This is despite constant media attacks on the government and its difficulties in implementing most of its program.

The UCPN-M retained two previously held seats and won a third. The other three seats went to the right-wing Nepalese Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Madheshi People’s Rights Forum.

The popular uprising and a Maoist-led “people’s war” brought down Nepal’s centuries-old monarchy, opening the way for constituent assembly elections one year ago. Against expectations, the Maoists, whose support is based on the poor, won the largest number of seats.

Since then, right-wing forces, backed by foreign powers, have sought to weaken the UCPN (Maoist)-led government and drive back the momentum for genuine change. The UCPN (Maoist) has deep roots within poor communities, through its work in local areas, among youth, women, peasants, and in the trade unions. So far, the campaign by the right-wing forces that dominate much of the state and media have failed to sever these links.

`New' Nepal

The perspectives of the UCPN (Maoist) for a new Nepal include creating secular, democratic republic; a new democratised military based on merging the formerly royalist Nepal Army with the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA); and fighting discrimination against ethnic minorities, women and the lower castes.

A minimum wage has already been created and the UCPN (Maoist) program promises to guarantee employment. National industry will be prioritised to promote development. Workers will have the right to take part in management. The UCPN (Maoist) also promotes land reform based on the principle of “land to those who work it”.

The public education system will be expanded and made free at lower levels. Private education institutions charging high fees will be regulated and phased out. Ethnic minorities will have the right to education in their own language. A literacy campaign has been launched by volunteers, to combat an illiteracy rate around 50%.

Recognising that health is a human right, the Maoists plan to significantly develop the healthcare system from its current decrepit state — especially in poor rural areas.

Suresh Kumar Ale Maga, a UCPN (Maoist) member of parliament, told Green Left Weekly that, for the UCPN (Maoist), a new Nepal meant “a Nepal on the way to socialism”.

Army sabotage

Following its victory in the by-elections on this program, the UCPN-M has pressed ahead with plans to restructure the state. The existing structures, inherited from the monarchy, have proved resistant to change. This has sparked fierce resistance from the opposition, the foreign embassies and the army. This has put the ongoing peace process, in which the PLA agreed to end its armed struggle, in jeopardy.

Facing attacks from various sides, the UCPN (Maoist) has responded with daily street demonstrations across the country. The core issue is the need for control by the elected government over the state, with its entrenched bureaucracy.

There have been many controversies involving the army. In February, the army recruited several thousand soldiers against the orders of the government, the supreme court and the interim constitution — and in direct violation of the peace process. The army again challenged the government when it reinstated eight generals who had been retired by the defence ministry on March 16.

Finally, the army staged a boycott of the recently held National Games when the PLA was allowed to compete.

The open disloyalty of the royalist military towards the elected civilian government represents an obvious threat to democracy. For the security of Nepal, it is essential that the military be restructured and brought back under the control of the government.

The Nepal Army has changed only in name from the old Royal Nepal Army, which backed an anti-democratic coup to reinstate absolute royal rule in 2005. The retirement of the chief of army staff is an initial step in a process aimed at creating the new democratic armed forces as part of the struggle to create new, democratic state structures.

The basis of the opposition to such moves is the question of power. People in positions of state power in Nepal, be it in the bureaucracy, judiciary or military, feel threatened by the process of change.

The political opposition unites those within the fabric of the old society seeking to prevent the creation of the new. Resistance to change in the military is part of the struggle of the rich and powerful. The elite views the military as its armed wing against radical change.

However, recent Nepalese history has shown that the real power in society is not to be found at the top. Rather, it rests in the people.

There have been demonstrations every day by Maoist supporters calling for Katawal's retirement. Combined with the by-election results, it puts beyond doubt the fact that popular sentiment is behind the government and supports change.

[Ben Peterson is a member of the socialist youth organisation Resistance currently living in Nepal. He maintains a blog on Nepal. This article first appeared in Green Left Weekly issue #792, April 29, 2009.]

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