Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Nepal, The Maoist Former Kingdom

Photo: Brian Sokol/Getty
One of my favorite places and people on the planet is bringing to power the Maoist Communist Party, the former insurgent group (which the US officially considers a "terrorist" group) against Nepalese monarchism and the plague of poverty in the country.
Not so long ago, few in Nepal believed Pushpa Kamal Dahal actually existed. The Maoist guerrilla leader was a creature of myth — no one knew what he looked like, or in which mountain fastness he hid, or quite how he and his fighters, ragtag and ill-equipped, had managed to plunge this Himalayan nation into a decade-long civil war that claimed 13,000 lives. But now all know Prachanda, the nom de guerre by which Dahal is more often referred to, as not only a man of flesh and blood, but of suits and expensive pens. Indeed, as results filter in from last week's historic election, the once incendiary, class warfare-waging rebel may be on the verge of becoming Nepal's first ever President.

In an election contested by more than 50 parties, Prachanda's Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist has already claimed some 116 seats of the new 601-member Constituent Assembly in directly-elected district polls. That number will potentially mushroom once the remaining majority of the Assembly's seats are allocated on a proportional ballot over the next two weeks. Observers expect the Maoists to hold the largest number of seats of any party, albeit not a clear majority, in a body that is tasked to draft the first constitution of the Nepalese republic. It's a stunning turnaround from the days when Prachanda and his comrades stalked the jungles in fatigues, most armed with little more than sticks and stones.

Prachanda's rise is testament to the unprecedented political transformation gripping Nepal. Two years ago, Maoist-backed mass protests stripped the 240-year-old monarchy, once thought divine, of much of its power and led to a peace accord between the Maoists and Nepal's political establishment. The monarchy will be formally abolished once the Constituent Assembly meets. Its royal legacy — that of a highly feudal society where power radiated out of the palaces of Kathmandu — will be slowly dismantled as Nepal's politicians reshape the country into a modern, federal republic where previously disenfranchised groups like low-caste Dalits, indigenous minorities, and women will have more say.

Nepal is desperately poor. I hope this is their way out.

1 comment:

MT said...

I wonder what this means for diplomatic relations, since Washington classifies the Nepalese Maoists as terrorists.