July 21, 2008
Upset for Maoists
Today, Nepal's Constituent Assembly elected Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, the country's first president, resoundingly rejecting the Maoists’ candidate who was the presumed favorite.
The upset victory -- made possible by the last-minute coalition of Nepali Congress Party, the Communist party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), and the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), the biggest party from the Terai plains –- could contribute to a more stabilized Nepal.
Having an ethnic Madheshi from the country's lowlands as president may help unite a country torn for decades between its highland Himalayan cultures and the peoples of the southern plains. Madeshis have been historically one of the most neglected and underprivileged communities, with little representation in the bureaucracy, judiciary and army.
But there is the question of what the Maoists will do next in reaction to their surprise defeat by the newly-formed alliance. The Maoists remain the biggest party in the Constituent Assembly and, up until today, have felt confident that they would form a government with their chief, Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda”, as prime minister.
Calling the new alliance “unholy and unprogressive”, Maoist leader Dr. Bhattarai claimed it was formed to counter his party from taking the lead of the new government, as mandated by the people in the April elections.
In the event, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav’s win now casts a cloud on the Maoist game plan, particularly in light of senior Maoist leaders’ earlier warning that they would not sit in the government if they lost this election.
After winning a stunning victory in the April election, analyists say their current defeat illustrates their lack of foresight and inability to carry the other major parties with them.
It is fair to say that the Maoists contributed to their own defeat by first forging a pact with the UML and then flip-flopping, refusing to support the UML candidate. After the spurned UML joined forces with Koirala's Nepali Congress party, the Maoists tried to woo the Madeshi parties. But in the eleventh hour, the Madheshi alliance joined forces opposing the Maoists, resulting in the Maoists’ stinging loss today.
According to Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times, “The Maoists thought they had a mandate to have both the presidency and the premiership. The other parties thought that was concentrating too much power with the Maoists. I expect within a week or so the Maoists will start to form a government. They will be under heavy pressure from both the voters and the international community to do so."
But even if Dixit’s prediction is correct, the Maoists may find themselves with little chance of implementing key platform pledges -- like land reform –- and will face constant risk of being toppled by their rivals.
For all the political parties and alliances, power sharing remains the key stumbling block.
Profile of the New President
Dr. Ram Baran Yadav is a 64-year-old Madeshi and a widower with two sons and a daughter. The fourth son of a farmer, Yadav grew up in the hamlet of Sapahi (Dhanusa district), close to the Indian border.
He joined politics in the 1960s when King Mahendra banned the activities of political parties, blocking early attempts to establish democracy in Nepal.
A medical doctor by profession, Yadav was among the team of doctors who treated Nepal's first elected Prime Minister Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala during the last days of his life in the 1980s. Yadav received his M.B.B.S. degree from Calcutta Medical College and his M.D degree from Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (Chandigarh, India).
Yadav spent more than two decades in hospitals in south Nepal's Terai region before joining the movement of restoration of democracy in Nepal as a full-time politician in the 1990s.
He has been a prominent figure in Nepali Congress party. Last year he was appointed General Secretary of the party and is described as an important confidant of G.P. Koirala. He has also served twice as Minister for Health.
In terms of his own ethnicity, he has stood firm against the demands of a single autonomous Madhesh state. He has consistently put national sovereignty above partisan interests. He is given credit for having played an important role in calming down the agitation that broke out in the southern plains last year.
"It is a nonsense idea to have a single Madhesh state, because different colors of people live there. The Madheshi people want their rights, not a separate territory," said the newly elected president. "The politics of consensus can only make our people rich and happy. If we unite and make our efforts for developing our small country by utilizing the natural resources and beauty of our country, we can be a rich country soon."
President Yadav's optimism unwarranted?
A recent UN report has stated that Nepal has fared badly even among the 50 Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
"Nepal itself continues to remain an outsider next to other Asian LDCs that have enjoyed higher rates of growth over recent years and are making faster progress in transforming their economies away from a dependence on commodities towards manufacturing and services," says the press release issued by the United Nations Information Center referring to the latest report on LDCs by UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
"On current trends, the report suggests Nepal could be more than 50 years away from graduating from the LDC group," the release adds.
Launching the report subtitled "Growth, poverty and the terms of the development partnership," Robert Piper, UN Resident Coordinator for Nepal, underlined the importance of the Nepal government making the right policy choices to place Nepal on track to faster and more equitable growth.
"We need a much greater sense of urgency amongst all those responsible to get Nepal out [of the LDCs club]. Only effective economic policies that create employment, increase agricultural productivity and reduce dependence on commodities can ensure that growth – when it comes – will translate into poverty reduction. One third of Nepal's population continue to live in some of the worst conditions to be found on the planet," Piper said.
Presenting the findings of the report, Dr. Shankar Sharma, former vice chairman of National Planning Commission (NPC), said that in the last three years, the average GDP growth of Nepal stood at 2.8 percent – way below the average of LDCs at 7.6 percent.