The stage is almost ready; the finale battle for power in Kathmandu is all about to begin. With less than two months left for elections, power players in Kathmandu are all hoping from one party office to the other and from one VIP residence to another in a last minute effort to bridge needy alliances. Unfortunately, what is most lacking among the politicians in Kathmandu is the political will to conduct elections for the convergence of the Constituent Assembly. Former prime minister and NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba who campaigned with a lot of heart in the terai braving repeated bomb blasts during his mass rallies commented after his arrival in the capital "elections are impossible under the present law and order situation". What is clearly evident is that although the SPA keeps reaffirming its confidence in holding timely polls, the parties in reality are well aware of the challenges in conducting credible elections.
Behind the back drop of the political crisis, there is another crisis that poses a major threat to the stability of the transition phase and the peace process – economic crisis. There is an urgent need to address the economic crisis the country is currently facing. Inflation rate is on the rise, fuel shortages have affected not just the industry sector but also the service sector, and worse the government has avoided seeking economic remedies fearing a bad electoral response. The economic problem has clearly evolved into a national one affecting every person and every household through out the country. Instances of casual issuances of bonds by the government are an example to illustrate the government is indeed facing gargantuan challenges in the economic realm.
The Russian Financial Crisis and the Brazilian Financial Crisis in the 1990's both demonstrate how governments sold their debt as government bonds to ease the budgetary pressure on the government. However, the policy to sell government debt as bonds is only a short term measure that invites further problems. Both Vladimir Putin and former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique would agree economic problems are structural and that solutions can be found by addressing the problem at the grassroots rather than issuing bonds to clear government debt. However, what is the most worrying aspect of the Nepali economy is that – will the economy be able to hold it's self for another two months? How long will the people keep quiet?
Similarly, the ethnic divide has widened considerably prompting further social conflict in the country. Dharan, an eastern town has witnessed some of the worst ethnic violence in Nepal. Dharan is a town that is strategically located between the eastern hills and the plains in the east. Reports have it that the ethnic divide there is so strong that some of the radical ethnic fronts have erected landmark pillars banning non-hill people from entering the hilly area. The aim of course is to prohibit madhesis from entering the hill region. But can we Nepali's afford a greater social conflict? The answrer of course is, no. But the social challenges are real and escalating. The Maoists have provided a perfect benchmarking model that espoused sentiments of self determination and violence.
The only real solution is devolution and structural adjustments to the social hierarchy of the country – there are no shortcuts. However, with such a weak government in place, the presence of government has been only limited to certain areas of the country. And due to lack of government authority at all levels through out the country, the radical ethnic groups are fast gaining popularity amongst their people. This is a worrying aspect. The Prime Minister is engaged in talks with the moderate leaders of the Terai, but will these talks lead to fruition? Or will the Maoists exert pressure on the prime minister again to sabotage the talks.
The total damage done to the infrastructure of the country by the Maoists during their 10 years war crossed 15 billion rupees. The human loss was also equally great. But the continued social divide and the looming economic crisis the country will inevitably face in the next two months in the absence of a consensus developed economic and social public policy will be far more violent and difficult to solve than the Maoists rigid dogmatic war.
But, here is the key. Every one knows elections won't probably happen. The chances are very slim. Despite the fact that elections are difficult to hold and unsafe to campaign for, the politicians are reluctantly optimistic about the possibilities of the polls happening; because, no one at this stage wants to be the deliver of the universal truth. However, what is interesting to observe is the changing dynamics of Nepali politics. The King has broken his silence and this time the condemnation has only come from the side of the Maoists. At the same time, the editorials and commentary on the Nepali monarch has clearly softened. The poll conducted by Nepali Times indicates that nearly 60 % of the respondents of the poll want some form of monarchy in the country (47 % for ceremonial monarchy and 13% for absolute monarchy).
The Maoists and all the political actors know the last two months are the most crucial months that will invariably alter the power dynamics of Nepali politics. The King has broken his silence, primarily due to growing frustration because of the incompetence of the democratic forces to counter the bullish left hegemony in the country. Gen Ashok Mehta, known as a vociferous believer of the 12 Point Agreement writes in his article, Clouds over Nepal, for the Pioneer news paper that "In this kay garne (what to do) contingency, the political parties can rise to invent yet another constructive compromise".
We may or may not have to wait until the 10th of April to see what this new "constructive compromise " will reflect in. But given the precarious situation of the country, the communists and the democrats are in their last round of preparation to strike yet another power deal that will shape the future power structure of Nepali politics much before the elections.
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