Sunday 13 April 2008

Stunning upset, Maoists head for power

Yubaraj Ghimire for Indian Express
Stunning opponents with an electoral performance that may also make the international community uncomfortable, Nepal’s Maoists seem headed for a majority in the Constituent Assembly with chief Pushpa Kumar Dahal, better known as Prachanda and chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (CPN-M), as the new government’s chief executive.
The party which led an insurgency for 11 years from February 1995 to establish “republicanism in Nepal” is still on the US government’s terrorist list.
By all indications, neighbouring India did not foresee the Maoists securing a majority on their own in the April 10 election which, according to preliminary reports of international observers, was largely free and fair. In their election manifesto, the Maoists had called for scrapping all major treaties, including the 1950 treaty of peace and friendship with India, stopping the recruitment of Gurkhas in British and Indian armies and review of major water and irrigation agreements.
The results so far indicate that if at all the Maoists agree to form a coalition government, the Nepali Congress and UML will be the junior partners. The Maoists have already won 15 seats, including Prachanda’s constituency in Kathmandu, and were leading in at least 69 constituencies.
Other parties like the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) were way behind, leading in 32 and 22 seats respectively. Madhav Kumar Nepal, general secretary of the UML which had hoped to emerge as the single largest party, resigned from his post, owning responsibility for the debacle.
Election Commission sources said that counting for 160 of the 239 constituencies under the first-past-the-post system was on. It will take more than two weeks for declaration of results under the proportional representation system.
The Constituent Assembly will have a total of 601 members, comprising 240 elected directly, 335 under the proportional representation system and 26 nominated by the Cabinet.
Soon after Prachanda’s victory was announced in Kathmandu, he declared that his party would “not fail the people who had reposed so much faith.”
“We will implement our pledge to make Nepal a federal republic,” Prachanda said as he was cheered outside the Birendra International Convention Hall.
While the results indicated overwhelming support for the Maoists, the Koirala clan, one of the leading families in Nepal politics, took a severe knocking — all eight close relatives of Prime Minister G P Koirala had either been defeated or were trailing badly.
As Maoist supporters swarmed the streets of Kathmandu, armed police were deployed around the Narayanhity royal palace where King Gyanendra lives with his family. The Constituent Assembly will in all likelihood hasten the end of the monarchy.
But the Maoist victory also confused the business community and the diplomatic corps. They were very guarded in their reaction. “The Maoists have to give a clear message that they will not do something foolish that will result in the flight of capital and discourage investors,” a newly-elected executive of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industries told The SundayExpress.
What this means for India
• India was instrumental in forging an understanding with Maoists to avoid delay in polls
• While US was leaning more towards Centrist parties (Maoists are banned on its terror list), China developed stronger ties with UML
• India reads the vote as one against monarchy, corrupt politicians and the UML
• India will have to readjust its relationship and is banking on “close contacts” with Maoists
• But it will have to contend with stronger anti-India rhetoric as Maoists swept polls on the plank of building a “truly independent” republic
• Nepal, under Maoists, will strongly demand revising the 1950 peace and friendship treaty. While India has been considering this, it will have to take an early decision on starting consultations

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