This is a question which has been exercising the minds of Nepali voters, particularly since the day the Khilaraj Regmi-led caretaker government started making preparations for November 19 ( Mangsir 4 ) poll. The inherent aim is to elect a new constituent assembly, hoping that it would complete the unfinished work of erstwhile assembly which ceased to exist in May 2012. But the original job remains unchanged : to write a statute needed for a post-monarchy Nepal. A constitution suitable for a republican set-up.
Conducting a credible election is the task of the Election Commission which is expected to be free, fair and impartial. And this is what it claims to have tried to be in the first post-2006 election, held in April 2008. Since it was not a periodic parliamentary election to select a winner and a loser instantly, the election commission of the day had to face a series of challenges to make the electoral exercise as widely participatory as possible, for an oversized Constituent Assembly (CA) with 601 members. Ensuring ethnic representation and enhanced women’s participation were some of the thorny issues that the election authorities were required to resolve before the polling day. Leaders of armed Maoist insurgency ( 1996-2006) and their comrades-in-arm were to be persuaded that following democratic norms and procedures would yield sustainable results; that “capturing the state” strategy might not be useful for longer-term gains.
Were these objectives achievable ? To find answers to some of these points, inquisitive Nepalis---with access to English—as well as non-Nepalis should find time to go through this recently-released book written jointly by Bhojraj Pokharel and Shrishti Rana.
The title “ Nepal Votes for Peace “ is indicative of the 2008 election organized after a decade-long Maoist rebellion ended in a peace accord. The book is obviously rich in information on events and trends leading to the voting day. And it was bound to attract wider international attention as well as cooperation. Says Pokharel: “ Our elections were truly global. We had Australian ink, American ballot paper, British generators, Chinese election materials, Danish computers, Indian vehicles, Japanese ballot boxes and Korean fax machines.” Pokharel has made special mention of Graeme Lade, Australian ambassador, along with his Japanese counterpart in Kathmandu, for his support to the commission at critical moments.
The political contents and concomitant analyses are really pithy and weightier in this book spreading over 260 pages. Of course, relevant pictures have made the texts livelier. But most striking revelations are in the forms of notes and quotes, some of which have surfaced at Pokharel’s meetings with national leaders, international visitors, donors and diplomats. It is here where, Pokharel says, genuine interest to assist Nepal came along with condescending attitude, out-of-context suggestions, claims of expertise and unceasing interference. (page 75). But such unpleasant remarks and observations would not have come if Nepali leaders had not reduced themselves into diminutive figures. To substantiate this, one needs to turn to Indian ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee’s comment : “What can I do if your leaders act so strangely ? Senior leaders come and beg me to make them prime ministers, even if for a few days. All your leaders seem to want primeministership.” (page 142)
Anyhow, it is a reliable reference book in true sense of the term, or else the Cambridge University Press India Pvt. Ltd. would not have published it. After all, Pokharel is the person who led the Election Commission during trying circumstances. He earlier had a distinguished civil service career of 27 years. And Ms. Rana, a budding researcher, joined this book project after having drawn experience in research works on Maoists armed struggle.
Former US president Jimmy Carter’s frequent presence in Nepal has been cited as encouragement. To find his name in the list of prominent election observers might have been a matter of encouragement, but his premature observation on the fairness of election several hours before voting closed drew considerable criticism. The book under review alludes to yet another point where Carter purportedly “suggested” that the monarchy be abolished through a declaration by the so-called “Legislature-Parliament” , and be subsequently endorsed by a simple majority at the first meeting of the elected Constituent Assembly. Events recorded thereafter show that Nepali leaders indeed followed Carter’s prescription without any change. Legendary GP Koirala and revolutionary Prachanda too did not bother to examine whether it would be legitimate for a body of “mixed deputies” to impose such a significant agenda upon an upcoming elected assembly. Conversely, how could a former democratic president of world’s oldest democracy advise leaders of an emerging democracy to adopt a fundamentally-flawed undemocratic method to abolish a traditional institution of monarchy ? Carter’s first visit to Nepal several years ago is often remembered because of his controversial remarks on conversion of Hindus into Christianity. As a pro-Christian lobbyist, he must have then found the Hindu monarchy a big hurdle standing on the way of proselytizing aims. Apparently, he now found a handy pretext to prescribe abolition of monarchy, without seeking public opinion through referendum. And it came in line with European agenda to remove Nepal’s identity as a Hindu-majority country to a “secular” one. As the readers are familiar, the desired results for all those campaigners came in the shape of May 18 ( 2006 ) proclamation made by the House of Representatives, which in turn was restored on April 24th by King Gyanendra himself !
In sum, “ Nepal Votes for Peace ” helps conscientious Nepalis to understand how unstable their country has become seven years after the upheaval of 2006. The broader question to examine now is : will one more election help Nepal to write a right constitution ensuring stability for the South Asian region ? Will the transition period end after another poll ?
The authors have left it to readers to make a considered judgment. They have provided a wealth of credible information on matters of serious public concern. Pokharel’s previous stint as the secretary in the ministry of home affairs has added inputs to enable readers to read the minds of Nepal’s immediate neighbors, on the north and on the south.