Category Archives: Politics

Nepal Votes

vote

I am one of the 12,147,885 eligible, registered voters who have voted or are in the process to vote  in today’s election in Nepal.

The second general election after the bloody Maoist conflict ended in 2006 will elect members of the country’s Constitution Assembly that will draft Nepal’s pending constitution writing process.

Following the end of the decade-long insurgency, the Maoists swept a popular victory in Nepal’s landmark election in 2008. It was supposedly a dawn of a “new Nepal” — the country’s 240-year-old monarchy was replaced by a republic status, the war had ended and Nepalis became more hopeful.

However, the years that followed made Nepalis frustrated with their elected members. Same old stories of corruption and inept leaders regained freshness. The deadline for the constitution writing process came to a dead-end, the Constitution Assembly was dissolved, a new election government under the country’s Chief Justice formed and today’s election date was decided.

As I walked to vote today, the streets looked deserted – vehicular movement has been stopped until midnight. But as I approached my designated polling booth, I could see people queuing — it was particularly good to see young people and the elderly walk to the polling station to elect their leaders.

“Aaunai paryo ni,” said a woman standing next to me in the women’s queue in the balmy morning sun. She said she had to come. While she wanted to exercise her right to vote, she didn’t seem enthusiastic about what difference the candidates would make.

As the Maoist party candidate from Kathmandu’s constituency 4, made rounds in the polling line at Ved Vidyashram, flashing a smile and saying Namaste with his palms clasped, people there, including me, returned the courtesy. But after he left, the same woman remarked: “Do you think he will remember us after the elections?”

After the Maoists came into mainstream politics and won by a majority, people had high hopes, but the party and its leaders failed to deliver.

From Reuters:

Five governments – two of them headed by the Maoist party – have come and gone as politicians wrangled over the structure of the proposed new republic and how it should be governed.

Economic growth in Nepal, where nearly a quarter of its 27 million people live below the poverty line, has hovered around 3.5 percent over the past 10 years, much lower than the pace achieved by China and India on its doorstep, forcing many people to seek work abroad.

Much of the ire for the drift is directed against Prachanda, the 58-year-old Maoist revolutionary whose party, riding a wave of hope in a war-weary nation, won the largest number of seats in the first constituent assembly that also functioned as the parliament.

As Nepalis are voting today, along with enthusiasm, there is also some scepticism. With one of the Maoist faction (Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist) leading the 33 party alliance boycotting the election, the future of Nepal’s politics is far from any predictions, discussed a group of men in the line where I stood.

“No one is going to get a majority, the votes will divide and so will the country,” a man said.

From TIME:

“No party is going to get a simple majority even this time. It’s just going to be a repeat of 2008,” Surendra K.C., a Kathmandu-based independent political analyst, tells TIME. “Moreover the offshoot of the Maoist party, staying out of the elections, is going to be a problem. If this continues another Maoist insurgency cannot be ruled out.”

However, people are still in the mood to vote, to bring change. Reports in local media claim significant people have left capital Kathmandu to go vote in their districts.

I met a man last week at Nepalgunj airport who was waiting for his flight to Jumla in west Nepal. A development worker by profession, he said he had taken a two-day break from work to fly from Kathmandu just to vote.  He had come to cast his ballot in the 2008 election, and he surely did want to exercise his rights this time too, he said.

I was headed to Jumla too, and so we talked about his village and the politics. He told me he had been in touch with his family and friends and been following Jumla’s politics and added it would be hard to predict who would win.

When I arrived at the main market square in Jumla, I saw cadres from Nepali Congress in full swing, but bystanders watching them and also discussing politics, seemed disillusioned. They said all they wanted was someone who would represent their problems and become their voice in the national politics.

In recent times, Nepalis seemed to have lost faith in their leaders, especially the elderly honchos who are deemed to be the foundation of the party’s ideologies. Out of utter frustration, a new breed of young leaders have sprouted or gained prominence lately. Young leaders like Gagan Thapa, whom a Facebook friend claimed to be Nepal’s Garack Thabama (referring his charismatic personality to US President Barack Obama), and Ujjwal Thapa, an activist turned politician this election season, have much dominated social media and young minds.

In 2012, when I spoke to Ujwal during a political activism demanding the constitution, he said he wanted to tap into the country’s young population and make them think and act, and not just talk.

From The Washington Post:

Highlighting the differences between the mainstream parties and his independent campaign, 36-year-old Ujwal Thapa said he is running to change his neighborhood and does not make big promises to voters.

“Not being able to fulfill their promises has given politicians a bad name,” said Thapa, who graduated from Bennington College in Vermont and has picked for his election symbol a dog, a term associated by many Nepalis with incapable politicians.

“We want to change the perception,” he said. “We want people to think our leaders should be like dogs — but loyal like dogs, honest like dogs and protector like dogs.”

In his article today, local English daily Republica’s editor-in-chief Kosmos Biswokarma writes that the country is in a “transformational stage” and by choosing the right candidates Nepalis have a choice to make the right change.

An editorial in the same newspaper states that “the road ahead is tricky,” but expresses hope meanwhile.

From Republica:

As we saw during the last CA, the longer the process drags on, the lesser the chance of meaningful compromise on important constitutional matters. Five, there must be discussion on important affairs within the CA halls. The whole assembly should be in a position to own up the final document; constitution making is not the prerogative of top leaders.

We still believe Nepalis are capable of charting their own future. What is needed is commitment to hold steadfast to one’s political ideals and to revisit and avoid past mistakes.

Another editorial in The Kathmandu Post resonates similar sentiments:

As Nepalis go to the ballot a second time, the political parties must take stock of their actions in the last CA. Public trust in the political parties was at a stratospheric high in 2008. Now, disenchantment is rife. But the fact that people have decided to give the parties a second chance displays the faith they still have in the parties.

As the poll stations close at 5 pm today, and the votes counted, we will be tracking the process and counting the days that could change the country’s future. We have seen the country go through a drastic political transition and have had expectations of equally drastic socio-economic and political transformations that would take the country forward. But time and again, our leaders have failed to live up to their promises making the path to progress still a remote thought.

With this election, people have given the leaders yet another chance to deliver everything — and even more — that they had failed previously. It’s now time for them to act wisely.

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Notes from Nepal: Which road will this rally take?

Protests are a part of daily life in Nepal, including the capital Kathmandu–it has always been.

And today, while leaders are mulling over the extension of “new Nepal’s” constitution drafting process, people were on the streets.

There was a three-day general strike, popularly known as bandhs, that paralyzes the country. When there is a bandh, nothing works, literally. Vehicles stop running, shops are closed and life comes to a halt.

So in protest of the bandhs, and also protesting against the concept of ethnic federalism in Nepal that would divide the country in 11 states, Kathmandu’s “critical mass” gathered in one of the city’s most exclusive area.

Twitter and Facebook were buzzing of this afternoon’s mass gathering to promote communal harmony; there were text messages going almost viral, calling people to join the rally.

Rewind May 7, 2010: There was a similar rally where some hundred city dwellers, dressed in white, came to the streets  protesting the five-day Maoist general strike that started from May 2.

So-called the capital’s “white class,” they have gathered time and again, often in the exclusive area of Durbar Marg, a stretch of street with chain restaurants and branded stores.

When I posed the question  about the prominence of the venue to Ujwal Thapa, one of the facilitators of today’s rally, he answered, “This was the last option. All other public venues were booked.”

There were peaceful gatherings in popular public areas in the capital by certain ethnic minority groups.

“We wanted to do it in a place where there is no conflict with social and political institutions,” Thapa, also one of the core members of a youth activist group Nepal Unites, said.

As about approximately 500 people dressed in white shirts, polos, tops, skirts and jeans, gathered at Durbar Marg today, the conversation was little focused into politics.

A bunch of people I talked to said they were there for “peace.”

But as it seems the word “peace” has been abused and overused. Maybe it is the decade-long Maoist conflict in the country that ended in 2006, and the violence associated with it that keeps on Nepalis saying, “We want peace.”

Bijay Lal Maskey, 58-year-old businessman, stood by the sidewalk trying to become a part of the rally. He stood there watching young people hooting to the songs of Nepal’s famous pop singers singing nationalist songs.

“At least people now can express freely,” Maskey said comparing it to autocratic regimes in the past where freedom of expression was limited.

But at some point, the purpose of the rally seemed to have diverted from its purpose: more or less it looked like a concert for national unity. However, music was louder than the message.

As people watched from the sidewalks, windows of coffee shops, restaurant terraces and from close by Sherpa Mall, the ones on the streets were waving the triangular Nepali flags.

The Nepali flag has become a tool to demonstrate patriotism these days. But people seem to have forgotten the meaning behind the flag, what it stands for.

Shreeya Rana, 19, was among the young group of people waving one of the many Nepali flags. Durbar Marg was colored with hundreds of the red, blue and white triangular flag.

Standing by her mother, also dressed in white,  said she was there because she “did not appreciate the country being divided into pieces.”

Sitting on the sidewalk, close to Rana and another supporter, 40-year-old Ramesh Mainali said he was there for “ethnic harmony.”

Away from the crowd, dressed in a white shirt, 26-year-old Farjana Banu was looking at the rally. Though she claimed to be a part of the rally, she was at a distant “because of the crowd.”

“I don’t want the country to be divided,” said the banker. “Nepal is small, and if you’ll divide it, what will remain?”

A country once known as “a common garden of four castes and 36 sub-castes,” in the words of the Prithivi Narayan Shah, the Shah king who unified Nepal, seem to have lost its significance. The 240-year monarchy is history now, and soon could be the wise words of the king who envisioned unity in diversity.

Though many present at the crowd were diverse and represented various social strata, mainly the upper middle class, most of them were busy posing with flags for photos — some have already ended up in Facebook –and busy singing, dancing and hooting.  Very few seemed to be discussing politics or the political state of the country.

But Thapa claims that people are “interacting, touching base and figuring out the propaganda [of what the leaders are up to].”

Bashing the notion on ethnic federalism, he said, “There are only two castes of people — one who talks and one who acts Nepal Unites’s purpose is to unite, get the youth to act rather than talking.”

But will this mass mobilization of people work? Will this “critical mass” or “white class” people’s voice be heard or will it just fade with away within a day or two as they get busy in their personal, professional and social life?

Which road will this rally take? Only time will tell.

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Russia Journal: In conversation with Yassen N. Zassoursky

How much of an open society is Russia?

In his lecture today at Moscow State University, Yassen N. Zassoursky, who has been teaching at the university’s journalism school for about 50 years, discussed the “openness” of the former Soviet Union.

“”Opening up of Russian society is our concern,” he says.

Though the country has come a far way and people exercise their power in form of protests and demonstrations on the streets, he says it is not enough.

Though he considers the various forms of protests as a “triumph of democracy for some people,” he said there should be a social harmony. In order to attain this, he thinks Russia should develop democratic institutions and have changes in its law.

The senior professor of media and American literature also noted that there should be an improved communication between various sections of the society and thus media should play an important role in this process.

Though he cites the Internet as an “important tool of democracy,” he does not back out from defining social networks as a “best adopted [tool] to propaganda actions.

He says social networking platforms as Twitter only “gives signal about what is news” and refers to those signals as “beautiful propaganda.”

The 82-year-old professor stresses on the power of print, and how it helps to increase the level of political understanding among people. Though the Internet has that power too, he says, people usually make their choices depending on the signals from social networking sites.

Zassoursky laments on the negligible number of print media in Russia. One of Russia’s most popular daily has a circulation of 90,000, which he says is a bare minimal number for a country of 46 million.

He also says that the country lacks quality journalism, and also journalists.

“There is no analysis of what’s happening in the country [in the areas of] politics, business…,” he says.

“A journalist should be a thinking human being—reading, thinking and discussing problems,” he says.

This however happens to be rare in Russia.

And the problem deepens as most of the media, he says, is controlled by the state or big corporations (advertisers) closer to the state.

He then comes back to his open society model mentioning that the country’s media sphere needs more competition, which means that the society has to be fully open. In its current state, Russia is neither fully open or a closed society.

“An open society would help develop political and cultural life [of a country],” he says.

But in Russia, the ideal situation of an open society is not close, but it is not very far too, Zassoursky says.

A lists the plan of action for Russia, as he sums up: “We need to develop our media, the access of media and develop the ability of people to read and think.”

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Young Russians “talking about politics”

Though Maryam Narzikulova predicted that the candidate she voted for wouldn’t win, the 25-year-old student from the University of Westminster, travelled to the polling station at the Russian Trade Office in London to cast her ballot.

“Despite I voted for this candidate [Mikhail Prokhorov], I was sure [Vladimir] Putin would win,” the fashion business management student says. “I wasn’t thinking he will change anything but still it was my chance to express my political rights to vote. I don’t want Putin to hold power anymore.”

But Vladimir Putin is back in power as the Russian president, continuing his political leadership. Putin, who serves as the country’s current prime minister and is the president-elect, headed Russia from 2000-2008 as the president.

A teary-eyed Putin addressed his supporters after the win saying he has “won in an open and fair struggle”.

However, Putin’s United Russia party has been accused of corruption and fraud in the election.

While a significant number of loyal Putin supporters cheered over his victory, thousands jeered against what many call “an autocratic” regime.

According to news reports, more than 20,000 people marched in Moscow’s Pushkin Square in protest.

Away from her hometown, Narzikulova says she is keeping track of the latest developments via social networking channels and news outlets.

Expressing her dismay over the protestors’ arrest in Moscow and also Putin’s fourth time in office, she says: “It makes me feel I live in a totalitarian country and not a democratic country.”

Professor Roland Dannreuther, head of politics and international relations at the University of Westminster, however, views Russia as “semi-democratic rather than fully authoritarian”.

Dannreuther, whose research interests include the international relations of Russia, says though the Russian regime is not oppressive like its neighbouring Belarus, “it’s far from open democracy”.

Since Putin held power in 2000, succeeding the Russian Federation’s first president Boris Yeltsin, over the years there have been changes in his power and popularity.

Talking about the shift, Dannreuther says there is an internal dissent in the country’s social and political sphere.

“There is a sizable group of middle class and intellectual population disenchanted with limits of political freedom and debate,” he says. “Russians are concerned about corruption and want to see a modernised and legitimate state.”

Along with the news of Putin’s victory, the blogosphere and social networking sites surfaced with opinions, views and analysis of what it would mean for Russia.

Dannreuther says it will be “an interesting time ahead in Russian politics” to see what Putin will do.

“If Putin is sensible he would become more plural and competitive, deal with corruption and diversify the economy,” he adds.

But people like Narzikulova, who is not politically active but still interested in their country’s political progress, fears that Putin will not give the chance for new and young leadership.

However, she says she is happy to see young Russians discussing this issue.

“People are talking about politics,” she says. “This wasn’t the case five or six years back. That’s a good thing.”

Published in Westminster News Online

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The Bomb: A theatrical explosion at Tricycle

While Russian President Vladimir Putin supports Iran’s rights to develop nuclear energy, the United States and Israel are clearly not in favour.  Neighbours—and rivals— India and Pakistan have their own stance on their country’s nuclear power.

As we see and hear the current debate on the development of nuclear power, and have witnessed the death and destruction around the world, Nicolas Kent’s “The Bomb” is a good point to refer back to the beginnings—a point when insecurities and hunger for power loomed over countries and its leaders.

A two-part series, the first part called “First Blast: Proliferation” is well scripted and carefully enacted on the stage. It tells the story in five short plays.

“First Blast: Proliferation” examines the state-of-mind of the two scientists in Birmingham with the formula for an atom bomb to the consequences of the atomic explosion the world witnessed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

In “Calculated Risk,” first of the five plays, the story is closer to home. At the Prime Minister’s office, high-level officials are holding talk if Britain should join the nuclear league.

“It’s the next war I have to worry about,” says the British Prime Minister amidst a growing threat from Russia.

The rhetoric in this play revolves around strengthening Britain’s defence and thus “building a bomb to win.”

But while the PM is constantly arguing about the negative consequences and the chances of going “bankrupt financially and morally,” his defence team rigorously try to push the agenda forward.

Perhaps, this could contextualize Britain’s current stand on nuclear power, and the debates, discussions and dilemmas inside 10 Downing Street.  You are compelled to consider.

“First Blast: Proliferation” also has elements of humour: “Seven Joys” and “Little Russians” are satirical and funny.

“Seven Joys” is set in the 40s in Washington as a one-member club. But slowly, this club—an association of countries moving ahead in the nuclear league—starts expanding as other countries like India, Pakistan, Russia, Israel, South Africa and France become a part.

You might as well get confused by the “egg” in this play, which is used as a metaphor for nuclear power.

In “Little Russians” humour comes to play again. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the chaos in Ukraine and a Ukrainian family’s pursuit to sell a missing nuclear weapon in the black market brings the stage to life. Add to that, the set design and subtle sexual innuendo, which makes the play interesting.

But for me, one of the most prominent plays of the five, is “Option.”  Set in India, it discusses the pros and cons of the nation rooted in Gandhi’s values.

After China’s first nuclear test in 1964, India feels “under compulsion” to join the league but it would “not be the first one to use nuclear weapons.”

What is striking in this play are the characters: everything from their accent to appearance are in coordination. For someone like me who belongs to that region, I could have overanalysed the script and its portrayal on stage. But oddly enough, I watched in appreciation.

By the end of the two-hour play, you go home not only thinking about the play but carry a lot of questions with you: the most important one being why, after such death and destruction, do governments spend billions on nuclear power?

Though the plays are short and to-the-point, they make the audience think, re-think and analyse the current situation—and that’s what plays like this one at political theatres like Tricycle is doing.

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Respect

The loss of journalists like Anthony Shadid of The New York Times, Marie Colvin of The Sunday Times and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik in the past weeks is a reminder that journalism isn’t an easy profession.

They’ve dedicated all their lives writing, reporting and above all bringing out the truth, sharing the real story of people and places cut from the rest of the world.

Come to think of it, this is what journalism is.

In Colvin’s words: “Our mission is to speak the truth to power. We send home that first rough draft of history. We can, and do, make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians.”

But today, as governments in countries like Bahrain and Syria are barring journalists to enter their territories fearing that the truth might be revealed, raw YouTube videos from the cubicles of conflict seem to show what is going on.

However, David Carr from The New York Times writes: “The video coming out of Syria is important, but without the lens of journalism, it is not sufficient. War requires witness that goes beyond clicking on a YouTube video.”

And what could explain more than this reportage from a war-ravaged country.

As I’m watching this video that captures the graphic and gruesome pictures of what is happening in Homs in Syria, all I can think is that it takes a lot of courage to become a journalist.

I only have one word for their works: Respect.

Nepal’s last chance for drafting its new constitution

A mass rally organised by young Nepalis through Facebook calling people to pressurise politicians for timely drafting of constitution. Photo: Robert Price

One year. Six months. Three months. And again six more months.

In a series of extensions Nepal has yet again extended its constitution writing deadline, and this time for the final time.

The Himalayan nation known for Mount Everest and later on a decade-long Maoist conflict, was supposed to have a new constitution last year. But lack of unity and consensus among political parties coupled with changes in leadership has kept the country away from its new constitution.

A new constitution would define a new Nepal—a young republic after the 240-year old monarchy ended in 2008.

A new constitution would mean a hope for new beginnings—a new hope for the 26 million Nepalis living in the post-war Nepal after the civil war ceased in 2006.

But so far, that hope and dream hasn’t been able to materalise. What’s not working?

Initially it was issues like the integration of Maoist combatants in the national army. But now, that issue has been solved. Last month, in a historic deal, Nepal’s major political parties have agreed to integrate 6,500 of the 19,000 former Maoist combatants.

This should solve one of the biggest constraints for the constitution.

Something that Nepali leaders should consider is consensus and power sharing. We heard these so much that they have lost its value. But it they were to put these words into application, much of the problems would be solved.

In May, in a roundtable discussion at my office, a week before the constitution deadline, Gagan Thapa, a young MP, said, “Until and unless there is power sharing among the parties, this issue will not move forward.”

Also, the political leaders who have taken the entire responsibility of building the new Nepal should fulfill their responsibilities. These leaders from the older generation should also pave way for the new generation like Thapa to make decisions and lead.

As young leaders, Thapa said they don’t have the power to make substantial decision thus being in the backseat.

“Unless that thought of responsibility is sown in the brains of the leadership, it’s not possible,” he said of the meeting the deadlines for the constitution. “We’re leaders but on different layers, so we aren’t capable of making any decisions.”

After the uprising in the Arab world via social networking, Nepali youth also generated some momentum during the summer. They created a Facebook group asking people to pressurise the politicians. A group of young Nepalis gathered in weekends, rallied around the city and started advocating on the political issue.

More than six months later, though they’ve been successful in creating a discourse and bringing the online mass to the streets, they haven’t achieved what they wanted. The aliveness seen during the initial weeks seem to have settled down, if not died.

It’s just six more months before the much-waited constitution turn into a reality. Nepal’s Supreme Court has ruled this extension to be the last. And if unsuccessful, the current Constitutional Assembly will be dissolved and a new election held.

The country elected these 601 members in a historic election in 2008. They were supposed to draft a new constitution. They represented 26 million Nepalis. They constituted change and hope. And yet, in all these years, they haven’t been able to do what they’ve been chosen for.

In six months, let’s say there is another election. We elect another set of parliamentarians. But is there any guarantee that they’ll be different?

Nepali politicians and leaders have long lost their trust from the people. It’s high time for them to prove the people wrong.

We’ve waited enough. We’ve been playing the blame game for a long time. There’s still some time left and we still have hope.

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In Tahrir Square, reminiscence of Nepal

The spring uprising in Egypt has passed through a rough summer and now a harsh winter.

In what has been termed as the country’s second revolution since President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, Egyptians are still fighting for a change that they believe hasn’t materalised.

Over the past five days, 35 people have been killed and hundreds injured in Egypt, according to the BBC. This has intensified and also fuelled to the protests over the ruling military council’s version of the country’s constitution that would govern its future.

In the post-Mubarak era, months after the February revolt, Egyptians are angry, dissatisfied and frustrated. The change they wanted hasn’t come yet.

The parliamentary elections expected next week, though shows some hope, the Egyptians aren’t ready to accept that it’s a first step toward change.

As I watch the political drama unfold in Egypt, it takes me back to 2007 in Nepal.

After the then-King Gyanendra dissolved the parliament and got absolute power in 2005, the protests started to brew finally reaching a boiling point in the spring of 2007.

Known as the country’s second biggest political revolution, and also Nepal’s April Uprising, thousands of Nepalis from all over Nepal occupied the streets and alleys of the capital.

Life halted in the capital, and the country, literally. Though I wasn’t in the country then and there, I was following each and every development carefully.

Almost after two weeks of massive protests, clashes between the security forces and the revolutionaries, the monarch surrendered. It was a victory for the people.

It was a revolution that ended 240 years of monarchy in Nepal establishing the country as a new republic.

But it’s been four years since the revolution. Nepalis who dreamed of a new Nepal are still dreaming.

Leaders have come and gone. There’s been five governments during these years and the country is struggling to draft its new constitution (It’s still functioning in an interim constitution).

After the king was ousted, there was a parliamentary elections, a historic one for that matter. 601 members were elected and held responsible for drafting a new constitution and for building a new Nepal.

But unfortunately, the struggle is still on.

For countries like Nepal and also Egypt, transition seems more difficult than achieving that change people rigorously revolted for.

People’s power did prove victorious, both for Nepal and Egypt. The Himalayan kingdom transformed into a republic and Egypt was freed from 30 years of Mubarak in power.

But the question that now lingers is: what next? How easy will the transition be and more importantly how sustainable is it going to be?

In a televised message, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi has said the parliamentary elections will take place as planned. He also mentioned that the presidential elections will take place by July 2012.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition party, believed to sweet most of the seats, supports the election. But most of the ones gathered at Tahrir Square oppose that this would change the existing scenario. They’re demanding for a presidential election, a civilian rule.

But Egyptians don’t want to wait until then.

For now, as frustrations are fresh in Egypt from its spring revolution, thousands of people are ready to revolt again.

What they planted in the spring, the Egyptians want it harvested soon.

 

 

In a historic deal, Nepal to integrate 6,500 former Maoist combatants

After delays, deadlocks and five years of political drama, Nepal seems to have struck the right deal.

In a seven-point agreement, Nepal’s major political parties have agreed to integrate 6,500 of the 19,000 former Maoist combatants, Republica reports.

The former rebels have been living in separate cantonments across the country after the bloody conflict costing more than 13,000 lives ended in 2006. In an “April Uprising” in 2006 that can be compared to the Arab Spring, thousands of Nepalis revolted against the monarchy, transforming the country into a republic.

However, a new political system didn’t usher changes, as anticipated, for one of the world’s poorest nation blessed with rich natural beauty. The dream of a “new Nepal” was often muffled with mismanaged governance reflecting a murky future for the country.

After the king was dethroned and the constitution scrapped, an interim constitution came into effect. A Constituent Assembly with 601 members was appointed to write the country’s new constitution.

However, so far, Nepal hasn’t been able to draft its new constitution. Deadlines have come and gone and so have the leaders. In the past five years, Nepal has seen five prime ministers since 2008 when the country was declared as a federal republic.

None of them seemed to forge consensus on the making of a new constitution. The agreements that had to be made seemed larger than life. The integration of the Maoist combatants into the national security forces was one of the major hiccups in the entire process.

And this week, the country’s most hopeful prime minister, Dr Baburam Bhattarai, seems to have made his way through.

Republica, one of Nepal’s leading English dailies, has termed this agreement as “the most important breakthrough in the home-grown peace process after the signing of the epoch-making Comprehensive Peace Agreement on November 21, 2006.”

Despite all the cynicism and scepticism surrounding the deal, Nepali Times, an English weekly published from Kathmandu, writes, “We can all breathe a sigh of relief that the leaders have for the first time in a long time risen above their selfishness and partisanship to show some accountability to the people who elected them.”

This means that the Maoist combatants have new lives ahead, new adjustments to make and integrate into the real world.

According to the breakthrough agreement, the combatants who would voluntarily retire will receive between US$6,000 and $10,000 based on their position. There will also be rehabilitation packages between $7,600 to $11,400.

Another point in the deal mentions that the Maoists will also have to return the property that they seized during the armed conflict.

In the Los Angeles Times, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), was quoted as saying, “The agreement is what the people have been anticipating for a long time. It is now our challenge to complete the peace process.”

And certainly, peace, progress and prosperity is what all Nepalis from all fronts is anticipating.

No one can justify if the blood bath and killing of more than 13,000 Nepalis were necessary. The Maoists will always be accountable for pushing the country backward, wasting a decade that could have flourished Nepal’s development (or not). Their reputation, like it or not, will always be associated with the armed conflict.

An editorial in the Nepali Times just sums that.

“Baburam Bhattarai and Pushpa Kamal Dahal may find it difficult to publicly admit that a war that killed 16,000 Nepalis was unnecessary. But as a party that now believes in the ballot, it’s about time they pledged their allegiance to non-violent pluralistic democracy. All the same, it would be nice if they could say sorry.”

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Hello Government: By the government, for the people

Gone are the days when Nepalis complained and criticized their government. Now they can call 1111.

In an effort to discuss the people’s problems directly, the Nepal Government has launched a first-of-a-kind project, Hello Government.

In a news report by Xinhua, Joint Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, Pursottam Khanal, was quoted as saying that the service has been highly acclaimed by the people and many people are calling.

“We are getting very nice response from the people for this innovative project.”

According to the news report, all complains, recommendations and problems will be recorded, which will be reported to the PM according to their importance.

In his effort to be more interactive with the countrymen, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai also publicized an e-mail account for people to send their complains and concerns soon after he was elected in August.

In Nepal, after the monarchy was overthrown to establish a republic, governments have been formed and dissolved. In four years, Bhattarai is the fourth PM.

But with Bhattarai, who is from the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Nepalis have a lot of hope. People admire his intellectual side as his visions for a new Nepal. His financial policies during his tenure as Finance Minister in the first Maoist government were highly praised.

Lately he has also been in news for his modest personal choices: he opted for a local, Nepal-made jeep over a branded car for his entourage and flew economy class to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, which high-profile Nepali politicians usually don’t do.

So will Bhatarai’s new approaches have visible results? Will the new toll-free number really be effective or it’s going to be yet another promising plan that led nowhere?

But whatever it is, it’s a good start.

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