Almost a year after it took the lead, in collaboration with India, in drafting the recovery road for Nepal that envisaged holding elections to the Constituent Assembly (CA) for the second time to bring democracy back on track, the US State Department almost presents the Himalayan state as a hopeless case.
The “Nepal Human Rights Report”, released by Secretary of State John Kerry, is concerned about the prevailing “corruption at all levels of government and police” and the judiciary’s vulnerability to “political pressure, bribery and intimidation”. The impunity and apathy from the state and media regarding cases of human rights violation, under the active influence of political parties via their trade unions, are listed as the causes of worry for the US.
The EU, on the other hand, has threatened an embargo on Nepalese aircraft in their airspace for safety reasons, citing the high occurrence of accidents in the country. But the warning coincided with the Nepal government’s decision to bring into operation six Chinese aircraft — two as a grant and the rest to be purchased on easy loan terms — instead of going for Airbus or Boeing as in the past. Nepal’s northern neighbour, which resents Nepal “being used as a springboard” by the US, at times using its allies to “encircle China”, has promised all support to realise Nepal’s developmental potential, especially in the field of tourism and water resources.
The US report somehow gives the impression that the delay in statute-drafting is cause for the worries. But it refuses to introspect on the role the US played along with the international community in bringing Nepal’s apex judiciary and the four major parties together to “collaborate” on constituting the chief justice-led electoral government. Despite conducting the election to the CA in November, the independent image of the judiciary has been damaged by its teaming up with powerful political parties. The resultant loss of credibility is the by-product of such collaboration.
It took more than three months for the new CA to get a coalition government in place, without a common minimum programme. The president and the speaker are divided along party lines, since the two major constituents — the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) — have so far failed to settle whether the head of state or the chair of the House will certify legislations and the constitution, if and when the latter comes. The House committee elected to settle this issue has been given its third extension.
A third of the promised one-year time frame for constitution-delivery has already run out, and the government led by Sushil Koirala is facing a hostile House. At a recent public function, Koirala was reported as saying “Tanakpur belongs to India, not Nepal.” In fact, the Tanakpur issue has triggered major controversies in the past, especially in the 1991-93 period, leading to the resignation of G.P. Koirala as PM and his party’s defeat in the mid-term polls that followed.
Nepal provided 577 sq yards of land to India in 1991 — as explained by then Indian PM P.V. Narasimha Rao, its sovereignty continued to lie with Nepal —for the Tanakpur hydro project , as it would help enhance the power generation from 80 MW to 120 MW. G.P. Koirala continued to face criticism from the UML and was accused of a “sell-out to India by concealing the treaty”. But with political equations changed now, the UML is a partner in the government led by G.P. Koirala’s cousin Sushil. Will the UML condone Sushil Koirala’s stand on Tanakpur?
How the PM clarifies the issue and how the House, especially the UML, responds to it will also decide how smoothly, and for how long, the coalition partners can move together. Their failure to set out priorities will have a clear bearing on the statute-drafting process, and any derailment there is bound to further discredit the parties. Moreover, the current government — apparently weak and fragile — is bound to face a hard time ahead as the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) is not part of the power-sharing, fuelling speculations that no change can be institutionalised if the force recognised as the key factor is excluded from the political process.
As Nepal’s key forces in government and outside have not yet attempted to find common ground to write the constitution, the international community’s fears that Nepal is appearing more vulnerable cannot be ignored. They, including the US, can however afford to not own up to their role, or the costly experiment “enforced” on Nepal.