After being postponed twice, it finally appears that the much glorified panacea for Nepal's woes - the Constituent Assembly election (CA) is set to be delivered. Supposedly this time, the bottlenecks have been bottled. So, the manifestoes are being manifested. And at least a few candidates are campaigning. But, the follies have hardly been highlighted.
In any democratic setting, only a free and fair election can institute the representatives chosen by the people. This particular election may possibly install the true people's representatives. But, it will irrefutably have a debauched connotation.
Making peace with any violent political group is always a paradoxical undertaking. On one side, peace may be engendered through negotiations, concessions or a compromise. On the other side, a conciliatory peace making approach inadvertently acknowledges the use of violence. Therefore, this acknowledgement reinforces the use of violence by setting a precedent for other disgruntled and grievous groups. And such precedent leaves ample room for the perpetuation of violence.
In Nepal's case this is exactly what is happening. The CA has been the primary demand of the Maoists all along. When the CA is held, it will translate as a strategic victory for the Maoists. But, this victory will also be a victory of violence. As much as it would bring the country closer towards peace, the CA will also have effectively legitimized the use of violence as an instrument to accomplish political objectives.
The implications are already palpable. For one thing, it has encouraged other grievous groups to opt for violent methods. Before the Maoists ascended to power, there was no other credible violent political group. Today, there are more than a dozen. And the rising trend says it all.
Fair and free from fear?
Granted all is fair when it is done for peace’s sake. But will the process be free and fair? Will it be conducted in absence of fear and intimidation? Most doubt it. The prospect of a free and fair election has become highly suspect mainly due to grave insecurity. Despite the security plans flaunted by the Home Ministry, the security situation is still erratic and parlous.
For one, most national and international observers seem deeply worried by the lack of a favourable security situation. The recent intensification of harassment and acts of violence against candidates and supporters has alarmed the United Nations Electoral Expert Monitoring Team (EEMT). Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) has expressed concerns about election related violence and intimidations too. UNMIN and OHCHR recently issued a joint statement warning about future obstacles and challenges for a free and fair election.
Likewise, the Carter Center has expressed deep concern over reports of violent activities of members of the Maoist youth wing, Young Communist League (YCL). The European Union's Election Observation Mission (EOM) has stressed on an atmosphere free of violence and intimidation before the CA. Not surprisingly, even the Election Commission has demanded that the government beef up security.
All these concerns are rightly reflected. National People's Front Nepal (NPFN) candidate of Banke district - Kamal Prasad Adhikari was murdered. So were a few Maoist cadres. Dilendra Prasad Badu of the Nepali Congress almost suffered a similar fate. The Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) chairman Pashupati Shumsher Rana was manhandled by the YCL cadres while attempting to campaign in his electoral constituency.
Many other candidates have met similar ill-fates. Mangal Gurung, UML's candidate from Manang district was abducted. So were Brij Bihari Sukla of Kapilbastu and Shiva Raj Joshi of Surkhet. UML candidates including Dev Shanker Poudel - have been viciously attacked and injured. House of Krishna Man Shrestha, the Nepali Congress candidate from Banke was bombed. And the list is endless.
Meanwhile, it is reported that more than half of the Maoist combatants in Dashrathpur cantonment have left the cantonment site for campaigning purposes. So, there is pervasive fear amongst other political parties that the combatants were being mobilized to capture polling booths.
But even more ominously, four armed groups of Terai region have recently released a statement vowing to disrupt the CA. In the statement, the Madheshi Mukti Tigers, Terai Cobra, Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha and Samyukta Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha announced that they were taking actions to foil the election.
Ready for the results?
Even if the security situation were to improve abruptly over night, still lingering is the result of the process. The only certainty in this uncertain process is that the election will yield results. Either way, with a bloated 601 seats at stake, the political configurations and constellations are bound to change. But looking at the current trends, it seems that no permutation will result a smooth transition.
Baburam Bhattarai, Maoist second man in command has already indicated of further violence. Speaking at mass meeting organized in the capital, he recently warned that were the Maoists to lose, they would revolt. He further said that they would employ all available means to capture state power.
Then, there is the Army’s uneasiness. Previously, the Army had subtly indicated its unwillingness to absorb the Maoists into its file and ranks. But with only few weeks to go before election, the Army has flexed its muscles by issuing an even more recalcitrant press statement. Directing towards the Maoists, the Army has stated that it would not bow down or compromise with elements that believe in terrorism, extremism and radicalism. The press release further states that the Army would never work in cahoots with those that raise arms against a democratic system and want to seize state power based on such beliefs.
What if the Maoists lose? What if the Maoists win? What if the Army refuses to accept the results? What if the Madhesi alliance secures a majority? Not only that, what will happen to all the agreements signed by the current Transitional Governing Authority (TGA) with the innumerable agitating groups? Will the newly formed governing authority give credence to the deals signed by an unelected authority? The newly formed authority could easily nullify those agreements citing no binding arrangements for the agreed upon terms. What then?
Of course the CA is being mulishly conducted because the legitimacy of the governing authority is rapidly eroding. Were the election to be postponed again, the ruling alliance will have completely lost its credibility and legitimacy. Thus, the rush is more of a frantic run for legitimacy than a genuine intent to acquire an inviolable mandate of the people.
But, any process conducted in fear can hardly be fair. And ultimately any unfair process will only prove to be far more costly. The recent Kenyan election fiasco should serve as a stark reminder of the inherent perils in a flawed process.
Moreover, after more than a decade of no election, there is no doubt that the people of Nepal are itching to vote and institute their representatives. And of course there is an urgent need to turn the rhetoric of democracy into a reality. But in doing so, it is also imperative that there is a free and fair meaningful process rather than a rushed botched one.
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