The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) is holding its national convention, its first in 21 years. A democratic exercise by a party often feared as all set to capture state power is welcome. But there are no clear signs the party will commit itself to pluralism and parliamentary democracy. A series of assaults on journalists by Maoist cadres, the Nepal army’s increasingly servile attitude and now even of some Supreme Court judges, the police chief’s instructions not to investigate cases (against Maoists) of the conflict era, all point to the threat to the rule of law in the days to come.
Maoist chief Prachanda, likely to be re-elected, has said the party will rule for at least 10 years. Naturally, the convention will give a call for fresh elections under either caretaker Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai or a “civil society” leader whose “neutrality” will be certified by Maoists. That will also mean continued confrontation with major parties like the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) who have launched a “nationwide protest campaign” seeking Bhattarai’s ouster.
The NC and UML have lost ground by blindly following the Maoist agenda. They have been party to the collective failure to write the new constitution. Unless these two pro-democracy parties review their support to the Maoists in the past and take corrective action, they are unlikely to be regarded as more acceptable forces. That explains why the NC-UML protest is drawing thin crowds.
The Maoists know it will be difficult for the NC and UML to go back to the pro-monarchy fold and are taking advantage of their predicament. But the Maoists also want to be seen as pro-election, with a rider — under a leadership of their choice. In Nepal’s context, it’s understandable what leverage heading a government brings. Prachanda has also been insisting that parties must agree to revive the constituent assembly, even if they don’t agree on elections and leadership. That would restore the Maoists’ status as the largest party in the House.
This poses a grave threat to the peace process as well. The UCPN-M has invited all 15,000-plus combatants — rehabilitated with attractive financial packages — to the convention. It implies those combatants are still part of the party and their “military” skills remain at its disposal. Nepal’s peace and political process, in the past six years, was determined by “consensus” among top