CPN-M, its allies to chart out joint plan
KATHMANDU, JUL 15 – The CPN-Maoist and its allies have agreed to come up with joint demands while sitting for talks with the High-level Political Committee (HLPC). Holding a strategic meeting of a joint struggle team of the 33-party alliance led by the CPN-M on Sunday, they decided not to hold talks until the four major parties bring all the dissident forces on board.
A meeting of the HLPC on Saturday had officially invited the CPN-M for talks, even dispatched a formal letter. But leaders of the four parties, including HLPC coordinator Bijay Kumar Gachhadar, are still reluctant to bring the fringe parties to a the negotiation table. The HLPC wants a minimum understanding with the Mohan Baidya-led party first.
The CPN-Maoist has already announced a five-member talks team headed by Baidya. Fringe parties are yet to form their talks panel. Sources said some fringe parties have also exerted pressure on the CPN-M to form a joint panel for talks, claiming that it would be easier to push the agenda collectively. During the meeting, members of the joint struggle team stressed that it would be meaningless to hold talks if the four parties remain firm on their decision to conduct the Constituent Assembly elections on November 19 and giving continuity to the chief justice-led non-partisan government.
The meeting, attended by CPN-M Secretary Dev Gurung and Politburo member Haribhakta Kandel, Vice-chairman of Social Democratic Party Pasang Sherpa, Prakash Adhikari of CPN-United and Sobha Ram Thapa, among others, also agreed to launch a joint protest. “We are not obliged to halt our protest since the government has not cancelled the election process.
The agitation and talks will continue parallelly,” said Gurung, who also heads the joint struggle team. Stating that his party has not received any ‘formal letter’ till Sunday evening, Gurung told the Post that uncertainty still hangs over the future talks.
No conditional talks: Baidhya
HIMALAYAN NEWS SERVICE KATHMANDU: Chairman of CPN-Maoist Mohan Baidhya today said his party wouldn’t sit for talks if they were conditional and if the 32 other parties were not included in the dialogue. “We have not received any written talks offer, neither from the government nor the four parties,” Baidhya said at a book launch today.
The CPN-M had said it was ready for talks with the government and the four parties. Earlier, they had said they would sit for talks only with the president. Launching the book ‘Natak nai yetharthama badaliyo’ by Karnajit Budhathoki, Baidhya said neither the government nor the four parties were serious about holding talks with his party and the 33-party alliance. Secretary Dev Gurung said the four parties were not ready for unconditional talks with the CPN-M and the 33-party alliance led by CPN-M.
Holding a roundtable alone cannot provide solutions
JUL 15 – In the difficult times before the Maoists joined mainstream politics, two persons who were close to parliamentary parties gained national and international reputation as mediators between the aboveground parties and then-underground Maoists. One was former Health Minister Padma Ratna Tuladhar (the other was former Speaker of Parliament Daman Nath Dhungana), who was an official facilitator of the first two formal talks, in 2001 and 2003, between the then Maoist rebels and the government. In the current context, the High-level Political Committee has agreed to the demands of the breakaway Mohan Baidya-led CPN-Maoist to sit for roundtable talks. The Post’s Pranab Kharel, Kamal Dev Bhattarai and Pranaya SJB Rana spoke to Tuladhar about the history and process of roundtable talks and their possible use as a platform to resolve outstanding contentious issues of the old Constituent Assembly (CA).
Could you tell us a little about the history of roundtable talks in Nepal?
The roundtable has been a part of the CPN-Maoist’s main demands ever since the ‘people’s war’. Back then, the royal palace and the seven political parties, including the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML, refused to hold a roundtable. Even after the peace process started and the first date for the Constituent Assembly elections had been fixed, talks were deadlocked for a while with the Maoists demanding a roundtable and a full proportional election system.
Since neither of these demands was acceptable to the seven parties, civil society was called on to resolve the deadlock. I organised a meeting and we made it known that there should be elections and consensus. I remember telling Prachanda in English, ‘the name of the game is compromise’. Compromise does not mean that you give up your core beliefs. It just means that you weigh the options and evaluate which one will gain broad support. As a result, the roundtable did not happen then. Four years later, the CA was dissolved for being unable to write a constitution. Seeing that certain pillars of the peace process were at risk and there were going to be elections to a second CA, the CPN-Maoist once again demanded a roundtable or an all-party meeting.
What is the difference between the roundtable demanded earlier by the Maoists and the roundtable that will be held now?
The issues are pretty much the same. It seems that the old CPN-Maoist and the new CPN-Maoist share a similar orientation. They believe that the majority will be on their side as people are looking for freedom and an outlet and thus, will decide against the status-quo and the establishment. Based on these beliefs, they are demanding a roundtable. But it was precisely because of these reasons that the roundtable wasn’t held earlier.
Why have parties agreed to hold a roundtable now?
We have a non-party government but there is an understanding that decisions will be made politically. The four major parties have been taking these decisions based on their size in the old CA. Until the CPN-Maoist, there wasn’t any force that could challenge the position of these parties. If the parties ignore the challenges of the CPN-Maoist, elections will be uncertain; even if they are held, they might not be peaceful; even if they are peaceful, they might not be legitimate. There are two schools of thought right now.
One is that there are no alternatives to elections and the other is that a CA elected from this election will not write a constitution for the people. The old CA was divided on a few contentious issues, namely federalism and forms of governance.
One expert has suggested that the parties assure the people that they will come up with a draft of the constitution within ninety days of the new CA. But there haven’t been any serious talks to this end. Do you think the roundtable can be a platform to resolve contentious issues of the old CA?
Yes, it can. This is one of the reasons why the CPN-Maoist has demanded the roundtable. They have been saying, let us sit down and resolve these issues. Let us also take ownership of the 80-90 percent of the work that the old CA had completed. So for the CPN-Maoist, the roundtable is not limited to elections. But the other parties don’t seem to understand this. Issues will not be resolved at the very beginning of talks. As talks progress, some issues will be resolved while anything can happen with others. If there is a lack of trust and hence, a lack of consensus, then even this roundtable will not be able to provide a solution. Now that the CPN-Maoist has agreed to talks, the government and major parties will also need to demonstrate some flexibility.
What might the roundtable look like?
The form of the roundtable has yet to be decided. For example, what will be the basis for participation in the roundtable? Will it be parties from the old CA? If so, the CPN-Maoist itself wasn’t present in the old CA. If it is parties that are currently registered with the Election Commission, the CPN-Maoist isn’t registered either. There also needs to be a mandate for the roundtable. If Kamal Thapa raises the issue of reinstating the monarchy, can this be decided by the roundtable? Furthermore, on what basis will decisions be made?
A situation may arise where the four parties are on one side and a dozen smaller parties on the other side. So decisions on the basis of majority might not acceptable to the four parties. On the other hand, the smaller parties will not agree to simply endorse decisions made by the four parties. These issues have not come up yet. Daman ji and I have been called facilitators and informally, we still are. So will we be formal facilitators? Should we call the parties together? If these issues have not been decided, how legitimate will the roundtable be?
Right now, if the major parties agree, then their decision seems to gain constitutional, political and legal legitimacy. The 11-point and 25-point agreement, the date for the next CA elections, whether to have a threshold or not, all of these decisions have been taken politically by the major parties. Even in the roundtable, if the major forces take a decision that is supported by the majority, it will gain legitimacy. But the problem remains whether to treat all parties as equals or if the four largest forces gain the rights they had in the old CA. The CPN-Maoist will not allow this. They believe that as the CA has already been dissolved, all parties are equal now.
Given all these issues, will this roundtable be able to provide an outlet?
For there to be a such a guarantee, parties need to be serious about the process of the roundtable. Holding a roundtable is definitely a good thing but that by itself cannot provide solutions. For that, all parties need to recognise the serious situation we are in. Just one or two parties cannot take decisions on their own. If the roundtable cannot decide, there are also talks of going for a referendum on contentious issues. But there are many such issues.
Will we present just one contentious issue or all of them for a referendum? In addition, the call is not just for a roundtable of political parties but of all stakeholders. More than a hundred parties have already been registered and more forces will need to be accommodated, including ethnic groups. The problem is that the CPN-Maoist and the major parties don’t seem to agree on the reason the roundtable is being called for.
The main issues of discussion will definitely be the elections and the government to be formed after elections but there are also demands to replace the Chief Justice-led government with a party-led one and to disband the High-level Political Committee. Only when these issues are dealt with and contentious issues of the previous CA are resolved, then elections will be free and fair, a constitution will be written, political stability will return to the country and development will take pace.
As the roundtable itself could go on for months, do you think elections will take place in November?
There are already two sides. The CPN-Maoist on one hand wants to hold a roundtable at any cost, even if it means pushing back elections. On the other side are a few parties who want to go to elections in November at any cost, even if the CPN-Maoist doesn’t take part. But one good thing that has happened is that the CPN-Maoist’s demand for a roundtable has been accepted. So parties must be doing their internal homework and an environment for talks is being created. Before senior leaders sit for talks, mid-level leaders can do so. Responsible parties need to be serious about not repeating mistakes made in the past.