Lida Mirzaii analyses the current situation in Nepal following the Maoist Party’ s journey from rebel force to ruling power and highlights the uncertainty of the promises made by the newly elected group.
Nepal has suffered a tumultuous political history marred with the massacre of a royal family, ten years of bloody civil war and escalating poverty.
The pivotal April elections signalled a resounding call for change, unexpectedly from the former rebels that were a source of Nepal’s chaos. Sweeping away the established ruling class, the Maoist Communist Party, still regarded as a terrorist organisation by the United States, emerged triumphant. In securing 217 seats in the 601-member constituent assembly, the former rebels effectively ended the rule of the world’s last Hindu monarchy.
The Maoist Party’s charismatic figurehead, Prachanda, or the ‘fierce one’, shocked by his party’s own success, delivered a pacifying victory speech to an enraptured audience waving the hammer and sickle emblems of the now dominant ruling party. “I thank all the Nepalese people for giving us the responsibility to make a new Nepal, I will remain fully committed to the peace process and multi-party democracy.”
A far cry from the 1996 ‘people’s war’ which left 13,000 dead, the transition from guerrilla combat to hustings seems an inevitable process from a party that realised a revolution through the ballot rather than the barrel was the only viable option for an economically crippled nation. With a national capita of only $260 a year and a third of the population below the poverty line, the ubiquitous Maoist network rallied the rural regions of Nepal, capitalising on the support of the marginalized populace by promising change.
Sick of the existing ruling coalitions and ineffective political stalemate of the National Congress (NC) and Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) parties, Prachanda’s alluring ‘path out of poverty and underdevelopment’ scheme is just the kind of policies that Nepali voters flocked towards.
Rajan, a student who also works in his family’s rafting business in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, remains optimistic that the Maoist Party is more than just rhetoric: “I do agree the system will be changed for good. If they do what they say they will do, Nepal will have a constitution similar to the US, the system will change completely but it wont be a total communist state.” The ‘if’ however is the temperamental factor. Policies aimed to appease will be far more difficult to implement in a country that has only seen ineffectual autocratic rule, and Prachanda’s apparently progressive economic policies will not be enough to heave Nepal from its fiscal slump.
The Maoists only have to look to their Communist neighbour, China, to see that gathering wealth is paramount; the vestiges of traditional communist ideology is only to be seen in the propaganda of the red rally’s and the ‘people’s songs’.
With an economic plan to gain foreign investment in Nepal’s Himalayan hydropower, step up horticulture and social policies that fight against class based discrimination, it is easy to see why many Nepali’s have chosen the former rebels over King Gyanendra’s volatile rule since 2001. Having lived a lavish existence in an exceptionally poor country.
The Maoist party appears more inclusive; managing to elect 21 women to the Nepali assembly compared to the one female member elected by the Nepali Congress, as well as including the voice of the Dalits (untouchables) who make up 14 % of the population who voted solidly against this existent corruption.
The violent underbelly of the party, however, still exists in the form of the Young Communist League, which has always been more eager to pursue ideological politics at any cost. The more menacing tactics of road blockades are still used to immobilise the country and cause unrest.
Sudeep, who works in an orphanage in Prachanda’s home district of Chitwan, is sceptical of the Maoists commitment to democracy. Like many who voted for much needed change, he can only wait to see if they deliver. “You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, the Maoists have constantly caused unrest, blocking off the roads and for what? They’ve done a lot to get us in the mess we’re in. I’m not sure I have faith they’ll get us out, but they’re the only option we have.”