The failure of the Constituent Assembly to deliver seems to have brought to life all kinds of dormant political forces. Particularly noticeable has been the insalubrious stirrings of the far right which is trying to stake a greater claim on the national polity in the vacuum created by the expiry of the CA and the absence of a permanent government.
Addressing the RPP (Nepal)’s mass gathering at the Open Air theatre last Friday, its firebrand leader Kamal Thapa lambasted the traditional political parties for ‘deliberately’ overlooking Maoist excesses after the entry of the rebel force into mainstream politics and for supporting the ‘illegitimate’ removal of monarchy and the equally ‘unlawful’ declaration of a republic. NC, CPN-UML and 20 other parties (that had organized a mass meet of their own at the same venue a day earlier) must have been spooked by the seemingly larger participation of people in the RPP-N gathering compared to their collective ‘show of strength’.
Another interesting aspect of the RPP-N campaign post May 27 has been the resources it has been able to marshal towards its goal of return of monarchy and reestablishment of Hindu kingdom. To drum up support for last week’s mass meet, millions of rupees were spent on expensive TV ads alone. Speaking at the same program, Thapa vowed to safeguard the country’s status as a unitary state and urged people to shun the ill-fated republican and federal agenda. Soon, the once Pancha thundered, a people’s wave would carry the deposed king from his Nagarjun adobe to his old Narayanhity redoubt, adding more grist to the rumor mills that the former royals could be bankrolling the party.
Greater support for far right parties like RPP-N is understandable though. The Nepalis who turned up in droves to vote in the CA polls in 2008 feel badly let down by their trusted representatives. Given the perceived failure of the mainstream political parties in the last four years, the belief that the whole federal agenda was misguided seems to be gaining ground, especially among those who were skeptic of the agenda right from the start but had come around, willy-nilly, to facilitate the ever-elusive consensus in the lead up to May 27. The CA’s eventual failure has undoubtedly emboldened the federal state critics and strengthened the doubts of skeptics.
Moreover, the proponents of monarchy argue, since the body that uprooted monarchy has lost its legitimacy, the decision to remove the institution should be considered null and void as well. The fact that the interim constitution has already been amended to include the provision of a ‘republic’ seems to be little more than a puny legal bump on the path to restoration of monarchy, which, they claim, still enjoys considerable support. Since post-2006 polity has been largely driven by political consensus rather than strict legal interpretation, they hold the same standard should be applied to the issue of reinstatement of monarchy.
To buttress their argument they cite polls like the one conducted by Asia Foundation and DFID in 2008. The poll had found that nearly 50 percent of the 3,000 people surveyed in 75 districts wanted ‘a place for the institution of monarchy in the future,’ while just 38 percent were for doing away with monarchy altogether. Has this pro-monarchy constituency grown or shrunk since? Short of a referendum, there might be no way to settle this question. But given the miniscule possibility of a referendum on the issue, the royal supporters know it will be hard to dismiss their claim of broad support for monarchy out of hand.
While there is a significant threat from the extreme right to the achievements of post-2006 polity—consensus on federalism and conclusion of peace process the most significant among them—the country could face an equally potent challenge from the extreme left, which is likely to congeal around the new Maoist outfit put together by the breakaway Baidya faction of UCPN (Maoist). Make no mistake: its message of single identity-based federal states, its radical land reform agenda, its promise to restore the dignity of ex-combatants who were made to ‘surrender’ before Nepal Army, they could all find strong, sizable constituencies. “Absolutely!” Baidya’s eyes lit up when Republica asked him if he could bank on public support for the new party. Even if he is uncertain about the national political dynamics in the immediate future, he seems to know exactly where he will go with the new party.
It is also likely that the extreme right and the hard left will join hands to further undermine the weakened center. Ironically, to achieve this unity they will look to play up the issue of inclusion by sharpening the divisions along ethnic and class lines. In this environment, if the mainstream political parties continue to be wishy-washy on issues of marginalized communities, not only do they risk splits among their own ranks, but will also contribute to further polarization of national polity.
We have seen of late how the radical fringes are bolstered as the centrist parties have weakened in Europe. As the Euro zone continues to be buffeted by the heavy winds of the financial crisis that started in 2007, the continent has seen sharp rise in popularity of both the far right and the extreme left in countries like Greece, France and the Netherlands.
The radical forces are gaining ground as centrist parties continue lose their luster after their failure to deliver constitution.
Although the reasons for the current distress in Europe are vastly different to those responsible for political turmoil in Nepal, there is one common thread between the two: the decline of the liberal center. This happens when voters feel the mainstream parties are incapable of looking after their interests and start searching for radical solutions. Wasn’t the success of the Maoists in 2008 CA polls, which beat even the most optimistic forecasts, also a result of people’s growing apathy with centrist NC and CPN-UML? If people feel the Maoists and the new Madhesi forces represented in the dissolved CA are also betraying their trust, it’s plausible that that they might now gravitate towards radical parties like RPP-N.
A prolonged state of transition will help the rise of the extreme parties. This could happen if the government finds itself unable to push through vital programs; but, at the same time, the opposition parties, themselves bitterly divided, also fail to propose a credible alternative to the government.
If the main political blocks—the Big Three plus the Madhesi parties in the dissolved CA—can’t reclaim and widen the middle ground by forging consensus, most crucially on federalism and creation of a more inclusive society, they will face a serious existential crisis. For in that case people might not be willing to look for alternatives from within these parties but from without.