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Nepal: Maoist leader on next steps in breaking the constitutional deadlock

STOP PRESS: Nepal PM agrees to step down May 30, 2010 -- Morning Star -- Nepal's three main parties have held talks to try to hammer out a new coalition government after the prime minister finally agreed to resign to avert a political crisis.

Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal -- Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) said that he would step down in a last-minute bid to secure the support of Maoist MPs for a government Bill to extend parliament's term.

It was due to end on May 28, which would have left the country without a functioning legislature.

The Unified Communist Party of Nepal -- Maoist (UCPN-M) and its supporters have been protesting both in parliament and on the street for months to press Mr Nepal to go The UCPN-M controls most seats in the assembly and their support was required to get the two-thirds majority to pass the Bill.

CPN-UML leader Pradeep Gyawali said: "Leaders of the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML and the Maoists are now in deep discussions on how to take Friday's agreement forward."

The UCPN-M fought a decade-long "people's war" against the former monarchist regime before agreeing to lay down their arms in a 2006 UN-brokered peace agreement.

The Maoists then launched mass street protests and general strikes that forced the king to step down.

They won 2008 elections, but the Maoist-led government fell last year in a disagreement over the integration of former guerillas into the national army.They have been agitating for a return to power ever since.

As the largest party in parliament they are expected to take a lead role in any power-sharing government, but the prime minister's spokesman Bishnu Rijal said there were issues to be addressed before this could happen.

Mr Rijal said that Mr Nepal "is not going to get in the way, but he wants to make sure that all the outstanding issues arising from the peace process are settled before he resigns."

As well as the integration of thousands of former Maoist fighters into the national army, these include the disbanding of UCPN-M youth wing the Young Communist League, which rival parties say is an obstacle to lasting peace.

* * *

May 25, 2010 -- Counterfire -- Nepal is rapidly approaching the May 28, 2010, deadline, when the tenure of its Constituent Assembly (CA) will expire and a state of emergency could be imposed. Kaveri Rajaraman interviewed Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) politburo member Chandra Prakash Gajurel on May 18, ten days before the deadline.

The UCPN (Maoist) emerged as the single largest party after 2008 CA elections, but resigned from power when Prachanda, chairperson of the party, was blocked by the president in an attempt to dismiss the chief of staff of the Nepal army for opposing greater civilian control of the army.

A new coalition, primarily led by the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) (UML) came into power, led by Madhav Kumar Nepal, a man who has twice lost constituent elections, and strongly backed by India. This new government proved unsuccessful in forging sufficient national unity to fulfil the CA's mandate of drafting a completed constitution during its tenure.

The 2010 May Day mobilisation and the indefinite national strike that followed, accompanied by more massive marches and rallies, were a show of strength by the Maoists to push for the resignation of the widely unpopular Madhav Kumar Nepal and the formation of a new national unity government under the leadership of the Maoist party, under whose tenure the CA could be extended.

The most important issue at stake for the people and the support base of the Maoist party is the inclusion of the Maoist mandate into the constitution, with issues of land redistribution, local rights over natural resources, the implementation of federalism in the new republic, and rights for workers, women, dalits, janjatis, and various marginalised communities at stake. The more contentious issue is the question of the fate of the cadre of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), and how many of its combatants will be integrated into the state army or placed in other government positions, as well as the fate of the Young Communist League (YCL), which the ruling parties want disbanded.

In the context of the stalemate in negotiations between the ruling parties and the Maoists, and the mystification of the Nepali people and Maoist cadre as to the future steps the party and the country will take, it seemed imperative to get a sense from the party leaders of how they would play their cards in the next few days.

Comrade Gaurav, also known as CP Gajurel, was very accessible and courteous, and generous with his time, in answering my questions.

* * *

Let me start with the most pressing question. Now that the [general] strike has been called off, and it looks like the May 28 deadline for writing the constitution will not be met, what are the expectations and conditions under which the UCPN (M) will extend the tenure of the Constituent Assembly, and what is the party strategy if its conditions are not met? What will happen after May 28?

The political environment around May 28 will decide our strategy. Right now NC, UML and India are continuing to hope that we will change our minds at the eleventh hour. Even if we deny this now, they are hoping for our last minute acceptance of the extension of the CA's tenure without our conditions being fulfilled. But I can say this: no, we will not.

This means there are the following options for what happens after May 28: one, that the CA's tenure is extended under our party's leadership, an option provided for by the interim constitution; two, that the government will declare an emergency, in which case the CA's tenure will be extended by six months as per the interim constitution; three, worst of all, that presidential rule will be established on an unconstitutional basis.

If emergency is declared, this will be an unpopular move and we will oppose it. It is supposed to be declared, as per the constitution, based on the fulfilment of one of three conditions: external intervention, uncontrollable internal chaos, or severe economic crisis. If president’s rule is declared, we will oppose it and view it as basically a military coup. Our tactics of opposition will depend on the mood of the masses.

What about the conditions of negotiation of leadership of a national unity government for extension of the CA's tenure? How flexible are you about the following options: having another party’s leader as president, and having another Maoist party leader of the national unity government other than [Prachanda]?

If the proposal is to replace Madhav Kumar Nepal with a leader from a party that is not ours, we will not accept this. In any case, he will not resign voluntarily, and any negotiation to replace him with another party member will not be smooth, and will involve their putting more conditions before us. As for other leaders within the party, the party had decided long ago that if we came to power, it would be best for the [Prachanda] to lead. However, we can be a little flexible about this. The important thing is the party should lead, and any discussion of the conditions of leadership can be discussed in the Central Committee or Politbureau, depending on the new emerging situation.

Will the strike resume?

This is not likely before the 28, but these last few days are crucial for deciding tactics. Right now we have just planned for a centralisation of people around the 25. Again it will be peaceful. Rumours of violence and clashes with the army were employed before May 1 to scare people from joining the marches and rallies. But our cadre were very disciplined and so many people joined us. Even the OHCHR commented that the peace and discipline was “unprecedented”.

Why are fresh elections not an option that the party is seriously considering?

The present CA was unable to fulfil its responsibility. This CA has no right to write the constitution. However, fresh elections are not an idea many people or parties are considering seriously. Some trends within the NC and some monarchists are in favour of this, but it is not a logical outcome of the expiration of the CA. If the CA tenure is not expanded, then emergency rule is the only constitutional option. Of course, president’s rule is also an unconstitutional possibility. If the present government continues, it will be merely a puppet government.

In Nepal, Madhav Kumar Nepal is clearly seen as a puppet of the Indian government. What are India [government's] interests in Nepal and what was its goal earlier in helping broker the peace deal between the Maoists and the seven-party alliance?

The present government has been installed by India to serve its interests, since India wishes to control all sectors of the political economy of Nepal. This government has not been put in place by internal forces. Madhav Kumar Nepal is a rotten candidate. Having suffered two electoral defeats in different constituencies, he is clearly unpopular and has no moral ground.

India is the major player waging a proxy war against us and it chose UML as part of a strategy to use a so-called communist party as the main opposition to a true communist party. India prefers to back the UML rather than the NC against us, although the NC was its main force to use against the king. They were turning against the monarchy partially because the king began to defy India’s advice, by opposing emergency and purchasing arms from China. Therefore at that time, India was supportive and in fact instrumental in organising the seven-party alliance. The alliance was supported against the monarchy up to a limit. Its interest was to keep the monarchy, but with reduced powers. India just wanted to teach a lesson to the king, to put the king in his place. But it needed a mass movement against the monarchy, which is where we entered the picture.

When our movement went beyond its control, they sent Karan Singh to negotiate and broker the peace process between the Maoists and the seven-party alliance, because it thought the Maoists could be controlled by the peace process. There are two ways to control a political party. One is through conflict, and the other is the soft way, through political compromise.

Initially they tried the second approach, hoping that the process of mainstream parliamentary participation would transform our party into something like the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The CPM was once radical, discussing even ideas of Mao and New Democracy, but elections made it friendly to the establishment and now it is playing a role against people's movements in Lalgarh, etc. India tried to tame our party the friendly way but failed. Now India is opting for conflict with our party, and is backing Madhav Kumar Nepal knowing that if he does not resign, conflict will ensue after May 28.

What about the role of other imperialist or foreign forces in this situation?

The US is not very involved in this particular situation, or it has a lower role. It is not a deciding factor. We have had ten or more discussions with representatives of the US when they called us during the strike. They questioned UML and NC about how long Madhav Kumar Nepal would stay in power. They see his unpopularity as something that will aggravate this crisis. The EU has been even more proactive, with Madhav Kumar Nepal even replying and telling them to mind their own business. Both these forces do not support the Maoists. But they think Madhav Kumar Nepal should resign because his unpopularity is undermining stability.

What about the role of China?

Like the US and EU, China will not like Indian interference in Nepal beyond a limit.

What has the process of constitution-writing been like and how is input being solicited from the masses on the nature of the constitution? Is this input being solicited inside or also outside the party structure?

We put forward our declaration before the people, as our election manifesto. When people voted for our party, we modelled the content of our draft of the constitution on the election declaration. We collected responses from the people not just through the party, but through the process of participating in the Constituent Assembly. As part of this, we as well as representatives of other parties visited constituencies and took suggestions made by ordinary citizens.

As you continue to participate in parliamentary politics, what guarantee do the people have that you will not turn into the CPM? What policies or structures will you put in place to ensure people are not dispossessed in the interests of the state or corporations?

We want to implement revolutionary land distribution. We want to confiscate the land of big landowners, without compensation, and distribute to the landless and poor. Also the federal structure we propose will provide rights to local people over natural resources, especially over land and water. Ethnic groups will have rights over their forests, land and rivers.

What is the stand of the party on foreign direct investment (FDI)?

We will have to decide on something since there are so many foreign corporations and NGOs not working in Nepal's interests now. We are not saying we are against foreign investment or foreign aid. But whether we welcome it depends crucially on it being in the interest of the Nepali people. But, our concept of development is not based on FDI, which can cause rapid economic development, but at a cost.

What about installing safeguards against something like the Bhopal disaster, where corporations get away with deep misconduct in the interests of quick profits?

Again, we will only invite foreign corporations if we are sure they will help the Nepali people. We will not pursue projects not in the people's interest, and the local people will have a say. To control the behaviour of the corporations, we would depend on the judiciary for strong laws.

How will the rights and interests of women, dalits, janjatis, different ethnic groups and the LGBT community be safeguarded and represented?

Categorically we want women represented as constituents in all spheres of life, including political institutions. In our current draft constitution, we would reserve 33% seats for women, but aim for full equality. Adivasis or janjatis and dalits would also have reservations. Also the federal structure in our proposed constitution aims for more local autonomy, which will give more rights to women and dalits, as compensation for years of oppression.

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