April 23, 2008
As the remaining votes are counted, the Maoists continue to claim their victory over the other two major political parties in Nepal, the Nepali Congress who led the interim government since 2006 and the Communist Party (UML). The Maoists won 120 of the 240 directly elected seats for the assembly that will rewrite the Constitution, while Nepali Congress and UML won a mere 37 and 32 seats respectively. The ethnic Madhesi party from the southern plains came in fourth with 28 seats. The directly elected seats make up about 40 percent of the total seats in the assembly. Tallying of the proportional representation should be concluded by the end of the day, although most analysts predict that the Maoists will garner approximately a third of those seats.
The question is: Will the losing parties choose to join the Maoists or will they sidle away to nurse their wounds?
The Maoists, whose campaign promised fundamental change, have already begun wooing other political parties in an effort to form a coalition government. But analysts say Nepal’s history of bickering and power mongering, and the reluctance of some top parties to join a Maoist-led government, could delay the formation of an operational government indefinitely.
COMRADE BADAL -- The Maoists' Military Strategist
Certainly one of the most controversial of the Maoist leaders is Third-in-Command Ram Bahadur Thapa, better known by his nom de guerre “Badal” (“cloud” in Nepali). Although far less known than Prachanda and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai –- and seldom photographed – Badal is feared (and has major influence) as the Maoists leading military strategist.
Badal was born in 1955 in a Magar community. His father, Karn Bahadur Thapa Magar, was an Indian Gurkha Army personnel. After his retirement the whole family lived in the Chitawan district of Nepal. His mother's name is Nanda Kumari Thapa Magar.
Badal is remembered (by his childhood teachers) as having had a precocious interest in politics. He was a self-taught communist who joined the party in 1981. On a scholarship, he studied agriculture in the USSR, but eventually dropped out and returned to Nepal to engage in the revolutionary movement under weigh there. In 1982 he was arrested and jailed for 10 months. After that Badal went underground.
In 2003, Badal emerged as a member of the Maoist rebel negotiating team during the peace process of that year, coming across as a “self-effacing advocate of the people.”
He also gained attention by coining an alternative metaphor to King Prithvi Narayan Shah’s famous, “Nepal is like a yam between two boulders,” referring to India and China. Badal’s version was, “Nepal is like dynamite between two boulders.”
Lacking the garrulity of Prachanda and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, Badal nevertheless projected great will and was credited with the Maoist pullout from the peace process. (Many have contributed the collapse of the first peace process in 2001 to Badal as well.)
After the nation plunged into a bloodier conflict, Badal kept a low profile even though his presence loomed over Maoist operations. At one point he was said to have been behind an oust-Prachanda campaign over Prachanda’s rumored “softening”.
During the famous Prachanda-Dr. Bhattarai split, Badal seemed to have managed a neutrality that served him well, especially when the two leaders settled their difference and, in 2006, joined an anti-king alliance with the mainstream parties by acquiescing to the reinstatement of Parliament.
Since then, Badal has kept his council, emerging only occasionally on the public stage. This week was one of those occasions.
BADAL on King Gyanendra
Three days ago, Badal told reporters that if the king didn’t voluntarily leave the palace, he would have to face the consequences.
"It would be good if [King Gyanendra] peacefully, voluntarily leaves the palace after the first sitting of the Constituent Assembly decides to abolish monarchy. If he does not do so, the government will treat him just like any common criminal and use the army or other force to oust him from there," Badal said, adding that the Maoists would first try to resolve the issue through peaceful means.
Badal also emphasized that the Maoists were against retaining a "cultural king" or any other form of ceremonial monarchy -- clearly referring to Maoist leader Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s earlier statement that the party might provide Gyanendra with "economic, social and cultural rights and benefits."
"If by any chance any leader of our party has given an impression that the Maoists want to keep some sort of monarchy, it is certainly not the official viewpoint of the party," he said.
BADAL on the Integration of the Ex-Rebels with Nepal’s Army
Plans to integrate the two forces, according to Badal, will be finalized by the Constituent Assembly. But he made it clear, by using the word “mandate”, which party would be making the decisions on behalf of the Constituent Assembly:
"Our mandate is to establish peace in the country; to do that, the integration of Nepal Army and People's Liberation Army is crucial. So we will integrate both the armies to make a new national army." Badal also said that the Maoist party believed in making military training mandatory to all citizens.
Are the Maoists Terrorists or Ex-Terrorists? America’s Equivocation
Early in the week, it was widely rumored that the US would soon drop the “terrorist” tag appended to the ex-rebels.
On April 21, US Ambassador to Nepal Nancy Powell met with Speaker Subash Nemwang and assured him of regular US support to Nepal in the days ahead.
"[Ambassador Powell] said the US took the [election] results positively as it was the verdict of the people. The US would provide continued support to the Constituent Assembly and the new government to be formed," Nemwang told reporters.
Powell is scheduled to leave shortly for Washington, where she is expected to brief the State Department about the Maoists resounding victory in Nepal.
But one day later, on April 22, optimism was dashed when Tom Casey, the State Department’s Deputy Spokesman announced that there would be no change in the status of the Maoists, whom it continued to regard as terrorists, even if it didn’t rule out the possibility of a review of that position at a later date.
"We have an organization being placed on the list of designated foreign terrorists organizations. [It] has legal requirements that are placed on us. We have to honor those legal requirements and we'll certainly do so in the case of Nepal. To the broader question... certainly to the extent, you have an organization that moves away from violence and terror and participates in a political process and engages in those kinds of legitimate activities, that would certainly, I think, give people an opportunity to at least look again at that situation and that organization," Casey said. "But at this point, you know there's no change in their status and we'll follow the law as appropriate".
The United States first put the former rebels on its list of terrorist organizations in 2003.
One final note: April 23rd, the day of the final tallying of proportional votes, has an ironic twist. Today is the second anniversary of King Gyanendra’s ousting.