This is the second blog post in my election-updates series. The first one is here. The first post contains the definition of the Nepalese “echo chamber,” a theme which will be referred to throughout this series.
It is easy to predict the past. That’s the favorite hobby of most people you’re used to reading from Nepal. The predictions of the 2008 election results is an interesting case. Initially, many people including this blogger were led to believe that everybody in Nepal was a complete fool (except the echo-chamber, of course) who had no clue about what was going on in Nepal’s villages and streets. Many people had predicted that the Maoist party would not be the largest party, but they turned out to be, in an election that was declared free and fair. Some others, especially the echo chamber this blog-series hopes to provide you an alternative for, were cleverer. They have been predicting the 2008 election results ever since it ended, to this day.
What really happened in 2008 elections?
The Maoist party was a new party, fresh into electoral politics. They had waged the bloodiest war in Nepal’s history that killed thousands, displaced many more, amputated tens of thousands, and left a long lasting psychological scar in the Nepalese society. But they had a certain appeal. I have admitted already that I cast one vote in the 2008 election (one can cast two votes: one for the candidate and one for the party, because of the proportional system) for the Maoist party. Their leaders repeatedly threatened (once in a public BBC Nepali service interview of Baburam Bhattarai) that they would be forced to take up arms again if they were not given enough votes. There was some attraction towards them because other parties had failed in delivering good governance, development and prosperity but had instead nurtured a system that favored corrupts and the ones near and dear to themselves. The Maoists had promised they’d be different and although their ways never suggested so, many people were ready to give them “one chance.”
By showing good bargaining skills, and taking advantage of the competition between other two big parties the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party- Unified Marxists’ Leninists (UML), the Maoists were able to squeeze a lot of discounts for themselves. Not the least of which included them being able to go to elections with their guerrilla army still in place, paid for by the state and legitimized by the United Nations which was tasked with monitoring the guerrilla’s temporary camps. During the war that lasted for more than a decade, the Maoist army had killed, silenced or driven out many grassroots activists, social workers, intellectuals and opposition party members. They had a large arsenal, and although the UN pretended to take care of them, Prachanda (the Maoist supremo) openly stated that they were hiding many weapons. Many hidden weapons have been found at multiple instances after 2008, with a large collection surrendered to the army only a couple of months before. The Maoists are also considered to be many magnitudes richer than other parties. Initially, they extorted almost everyone who had an income and hadn’t still fled the country of their fear. Then there were bank-lootings, kidnapping for ransom, extortion from businesses and foreign missions (many industries and aid programs in remote parts had to be closed because of this). This did not stop after they entered the peace process. Instead, in addition to their guerrilla force, they started a para-military force named YCL (Young Communist League) that continued war-time kangaroo courts. Impunity was so high that the YCL dragged a businessman, who was allegedly corrupt, to the main park of Kathmandu to set an example of him. The situation in villages, where the scrutiny of media and outside observers is absent, was many times more appalling. Before the elections, they continued to prevent other parties from campaigning in many parts of the country and used all means like muscles, money and muzzles to get votes for them.
In such a situation, predicting the results of election is not easy. The main criticism has been that the “opinion of a small group of people” can’t predict the results. Election predictions are always made by using a small random sample from the population. But when the situation is as complex and horrible as mentioned above, predicting the future is not easy. But predicting the past is all some are so fond of.
Money, Muscles, and Muzzles
There is a famous video from 2010 of the Maoist supremo proudly explaining a closed meeting of his cadres about how he was able to inflate the size of their guerrilla army by more than 3 times. The UN mission (mentioned above) was hand in glove with the Maoist in all this. They “verified” the inflated army and the government had to pay for them and take care of them for about five years. It was only last year that the guerrilla army was finally disbanded, but it was not without the Maoist touch of superlative to it. It is perhaps the largest corruption case in Nepal’s history. The money government was paying for the members of Maoist army (or so it was thinking) was embezzled by the top leadership of Maoist army and party. Allegedly, the highest ranked people in their party and the army was involved. In a Maoist meeting last year, workers who came from the villages threw chairs and stones at their own leaders because they were enraged by this state of affairs. Apart from extorting from Nepalese, they were supposedly taking money from foreigners too. The hidden link between Maoists and Indian intelligence services has long been a subject of public knowledge in Nepal. But a couple of years ago, a recorded phone conversation was leaked in which one of their senior party members was accepting a large sum of money from a Chinese businessman. Some other aspects of the party of new millionaires has luckily been covered elsewhere.
Even today, Maoists are the party with the deepest pockets, strongest muscles and a lot of deadly firepower. The state of the biggest opposition party, Nepali Congress, was revealed recently in a news article which stated that the party’s chairman had difficulty funding his own election campaign.
This is not to suggest that all other parties are clean and good. Before the Maoists started their war, the Congress used similar tactics in elections. One difference was that the role of guns was only a fraction of what it is now. They misused the state police and hired local goons to threaten opposition. The party which derives its ideals from BP Koirala, the late Gandhian and Marxist, and one of Nepal’s original political thinkers, angered the weak section of the population. This, added with poor governance, corruption and many problems common to the nascent democracies of the post-1990 era, fueled the Maoists’ hate propaganda and ultimately the war. The other opposition party, UML (which in the 80’s was as radical as the Maoist are now, but has since 1990 adopted a principle of democracy. Recently, there have been attempts inside that party to get rid of the “communist” ideals altogether, and re-brand itself as a Marxist-socialist democratic party), had a brief stint in leading a single party government with popular programs. During the Maoist war, it also played a big role in the deterioration of the democratic practice in Nepal, with active participation in corruption and disregard to many crucial problems.
However, it should be noted that these parties have in some ways atoned for their past crimes. As the Maoist war started gaining strength, both these parties’ organizational base was severely damaged, with many grassroots activists, teachers and party-workers being displaced, killed or silenced. Many would like to hear a clear apology from them and a realization of their responsibility and the amends they have to make. During the past election, there were hints to this effect, with some of their leaders saying they will not repeat their mistakes. Many of their top leaders were defeated in the election and people seemed to be happy about it, because it seemed like punishment.
Ready for more?
With this much of background information on Nepal’s most recent politics, you are now equipped to understand all the more complex events surrounding the upcoming election. More on that in my next post. Stay tuned.