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Johan Reinhard gets Hillary Medal

Friday, November 3rd, 2017


This year’s Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal has gone to Johan Reinhard, an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, and world-acclaimed explorer and anthropologist who has done important work on the Incas in Peru as well as in the sacred ‘beyul’ valleys of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal.

The medal will be conferred to Reinhard on 11 December in Pokhara at the Mountain Festival. He is also returning to Nepal to continue his earlier research into hunter-gatherer groups.

In 2003 the Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal was initiated by unanimous resolution of the Namche Conference: Parks, People and Mountain Tourism. The Hillary Medal both recognises Sir Edmund’s life-long commitment to the welfare of mountain people and their environment and also encourages the continuing emulation of his example. It is awarded ‘for remarkable service in the conservation of culture and nature in mountainous regions.

Reinhard is a Senior Fellow at The Mountain Institute. He is also the discoverer in 1995 of the Incan Ice Maiden, a frozen mummy on Peru’s Mt Ampato. In the 1980s he directed the first underwater archaeological project in Lake Titicaca. His expeditions in the Andes have led to the discovery of over a dozen Incan human sacrifices on five mountains, including three on Argentina’s Mount Llullaillaco, the world’s highest archaeological site (22,100 feet) in 1999.  His investigations have led him to present theories to explain the mystery of the Nazca Lines, the giant desert drawings, pre-Hispanic ceremonial sites built on Andean mountain summits, and the ancient ceremonial centers of Machu Picchu, Chavin, and Tiahuanaco.

He has more than 70 publications, including six books, and his research has been featured in a number of television documentaries. His work has been distinguished with several awards, including the Rolex Award for Enterprise, the Puma de Oro (Bolivia’s highest award in the field of archaeology), and the Explorers Medal of the Explorers Club, while Outside magazine selected him as one of the 25 most extraordinary explorers and the Ford Motor Company chose him as one of 12 “Heroes for the Planet.”

Canada quake aid

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Canadian ambassador to Nepal Nadir Patel announced additional $14.7 million in aid to support Nepal’s post-quake reconstruction during his visit here last week. Nepali Times caught up with Patel to discuss Canada’s future aid and development priorities. Excerpts:

Nepali Times: What are some of the details about the additional aid you announced?

Nadir Patel: Canada has made a commitment of $51.7 million to support the reconstruction process, I am here to announce additional $14.7 million, of which $10 million is going to a number of NGOs and Canadian development partners that are already active in post-earthquake development efforts. In addition, $ 4.7 million will be given to the World Bank Group for rural housing and another $200,000 to UNHCR for refugee resettlement. During my meeting with Prime Minister and President, we talked about gender and environmental issues, tourism and education.

What are Canada’s development priorities around the world?

Our government recently announced a new Feminist International Assistance Policy with a special and primary focus on gender. Ensuring gender equality and opportunity for girls in terms of education and health will, we believe, contribute to more prosperous society. This underpins our priority around the world including Nepal.

How about climate change in the Himalayas?

Canada is working with a number of organisations on the issues of climate change. International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has funded various research dealing with effects to climate change in the mountainous region, water management and irrigation techniques to ensure that the impacted population is benefitted. Canada is playing a leadership role to address the issues of climate change, our Prime Minister and political leaders have been vocal about it not only in Canada or for Canada but globally.

Is there a backlash back home to Canada’s liberal immigration policy?

We don’t have same sentiments that have been expressed in the number of other countries around the world about opening up on immigration process. Canada, not only now, but in the future will continue to rely on immigration to support our economic growth. Canada is settling Syrian refugees in an informed way to ensure that our institutions can manage the settlement to ensure support for the refugees. With Permanent Residence we have robust process in place so that growth is managed in a responsible way.

Were you able to share Canada’s experience on federalism and autonomy, especially vis-à-vis Quevbec, with Nepali leaders?

During my meeting with Prime Minister we discussed Nepal’s transition to federalism and the movement towards democracy. Despite the challenges, the progress and success has been quite noteworthy. It is not easy to promulgate a new constitution and bring into force for the first time municipal election. I think the federal election is a great thing and it moving to a right direction. From Canada’s experience, I think the challenges of going into a federalism would be significant because it not easy to implement a new electoral systems at different sub-national levels.


Elections are a life-line

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Gagan Thapa (51)

Himal: How important are these elections in socio-political terms?

Gagan Thapa: For three reasons: if there are no elections it will be a disaster for the constitution, political instability will increase pressures on society, and it is important to end this prolonged political transition. In other democracies there is concern about who will win, but here we are worried mainly about whether there will be elections or not. These elections will hopefully take us towards stability, raise the public’s trust in democracy, move the constitution forward, and streamline institutions of government. These elections are Nepal’s life-line.

Have you found much interest among the people towards the elections?

The people may still asking ‘what’s in it for us’ because they haven’t experienced good governance due to past misdeeds of the political parties. We have achieved a lot: we have made the constitution and implemented federalism. It’s a miracle. But there has been little improvement in the peoples’ standard of living. This is a problem, and the elections will be a measure of the people’s enthusiasm.

But there is still uncertainty about elections.

I, too, thought so. Even though I was in government, I suspected there may not be local elections. These days, I am campaigning for votes and the same doubts have returned. The reason for this uncertainty is that because the transition the belief that decisions are made elsewhere is deeply ingrained. People suspect a conspiracy. Elections are also being decided by the courts, that could be why.

Is there a conspiracy to postpone polls?

I don’t think so. There may be some power centres and individuals who want that to happen, but I don’t think it will affect the elections. If the NC and the UML didn’t want elections they could have scuttled it earlier. We are accusing each other, but both our parties are focused on elections.

 So the main parties are geared for polls?

Absolutely. They are doing what needs to be done to make it happen. But we take every opportunity to accuse each other of not wanting elections. That is politics.

People say the NC is divided about polls because of the left alliance?

There were some who thought it wasn’t necessary to have elections by January, but a large portion of the party was, and is, of the view that the elections should not be postponed. The uncertainty will wipe out the NC as well because it may give time for the UML-Maoists to actually unite.

 Will the dispute in the courts over ballot papers affect polls?

It won’t and it shouldn’t. The courts also know this. It is not necessary to postpone polls just because we have only one ballot paper. I don’t think the court will insist on two ballot papers either.

How will the left alliance affect the NC’s performance in elections?

Because of our electoral system and current political reality, no one party will have an absolute majority. That is why we were in talks with the Maoists as well as other parties to forge an alliance. The sudden announcement that a party in the governing coalition would unite with an opposition party was obviously going to have an effect. We had to change our entire electoral strategy. That is why we also want to have alliances with other parties. The left alliance has given us a chance to woo back some of the democratic votes from UML supporters who do not agree with its alliance with the Maoists.

Has the left alliance pushed the UML to the left, or the Maoists to the centre?

I think the UML will shift from centre to the left mainly because of the talk of party unity with the Maoists. They will have to support the Maoist insurgency. So we have an opportunity to pull some UML voters to us, while retaining our traditional vote bank. We need to put forth more clearly our political relevance and principles.

Is geopolitics behind the left alliance?

Many political observers think so. And the democratic alliance that is being formed is also seen by some to be pushed by others. This has made us all weaker. We have to stop blaming everything on outside forces, and say that despite differences we have made our decisions ourselves.

Is there a danger of the NC being pushed to the right because of its alliance with the RPP?

The question is not whether the NC will drift to the right, but whether the RPP and others will come to the centre. But the NC now must change itself, and I am personally glad that the left alliance has given us that opportunity. I am just a little worried that the moderate left will be pushed to the far left.

November polls

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

Map by: Sahina Shrestha

Baburam Bhattarai

Baburam Bhattarai (second from right) of Naya Shakti is backing NC’s Chin Kaji Shrestha (third from right) in Gorkha-1 in exchange of the ruling party’s support to his candidacy in Gorkha-2.

Nepal’s two major festivals are over, and it’s time to gear up for a third one: provincial and parliamentary elections.

On Sunday, just a day after the Tihar festival ended, all political parties registered their candidates for the polls’ first phase, which will be held in 37 constituencies of 32 districts on 27 November. Phase two will take place in 128 constituencies of 39 districts on 7 December.

These elections will mark the end of Nepal’s prolonged transition to a federal democratic republic, which was declared after the end of the Maoist war and the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006.

After a decade, Nepal promulgated the Constitution in September 2015, institutionalising republicanism, federalism and secularism. Yet the Constitution’s future was still in doubt because of uncertainty over elections.

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Maoist (Centre)’s Narayan Kaji Shrestha (third from left) is competing with ex-Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai to win Gorkha-2, and the UML is backing him.

But the enthusiasm with which political parties have fielded candidates has removed any uncertainty over not just the first phase of polls, in remote hill and mountain districts, but also over the second phase in mid-hill and Tarai districts.

Altogether 320 candidates have entered the fray to win a seat in the federal Parliament. 482 candidates are contesting to become members of provincial councils.

With the RJPN and FSFN restricted to their Tarai constituencies, all eyes will be on the NC, UML and the Maoists during the first phase.

The NC is contesting elections largely alone, partnering with Naya Shakti and RPP in only two constituencies. The party has backed Naya Shakti’s Baburam Bhattarai in Gorkha-2 in exchange for his support to its candidate, Chin Kaji Shrestha, in Gorkha-1. Similarly, the NC has backed RPP’s Pashupati Shamsher Rana in Sindhupalchok-2 in exchange for his support to Mohan Bahadur Basnet in Sindhupalchok-1.

The UML-Maoist alliance has not left a seat for any fringe partner. The UML has fielded candidates in 21 constituencies, and is supporting the Maoists in 16 others.

The Left Alliance is hoping to win a majority, but that largely depends on how it will manage internal rifts.

For example, in single-constituency Jajarkot, the UML is backing Maoist (Centre)’s Shakti Basnet. But Govinda Bikram Shah, an influential UML leader in Jajarkot, has rebelled against the alliance and registered his independent candidacy. This could directly benefit the NC’s Rajib Bikram Shah, who is already popular among locals.


Om Astha Rai

Political puzzle

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

page 1Forging electoral alliances in Nepal is getting to be far more difficult than solving a Rubik’s Cube.

While most people are immersed in Tihar-Chhat festivities, political leaders have had to stay up late at night to finalise candidates for Provincial and Parliamentary elections in November and December. It is not an easy job to balance factional interests with the needs to preserve electoral alliances.

Two weeks after announcing their alliance, the UML and Maoist (Centre) are still struggling to divvy up seats, even after the exit of Baburam Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti party. An intense battle is raging, not just within the Left Alliance, but also within its constituent parties between rival factions.

For example: the Maoists want the single-constituency Bhojpur for Gopal Kirati, who initially opposed the Left Alliance calculating that the deal might hurt his ambition to become Chief Minister of Province 1. UML Chair KP Oli has hinted that the Maoists can take Bhojpur, figuring that a deal could secure the political future of his acolyte Sher Dhan Rai at the expense of Rajendra Rai, who is backed by his party rival, Madhav Nepal.

Nepal’s two largest communist parties, who say they will unite after the polls, are also in direct competition for seats in many other districts.

Squeezed out of the Left Alliance, Bhattarai has gone over to the NC’s fold to help him win his home constituency of Gorkha-2. He has promised to support NC in Gorkha-1, but its cadres are unsure if it will be a good deal, given Naya Shakti’s humiliating defeat in the recent local polls.

After the surprise announcement of the Left Alliance, the NC is desperately trying to cobble together a ‘democratic’ alliance, tying up not just with Hindu royalists but even with fringe nationalist parties like Akhanda Nepal. The NC has welcomed Bijaya Gachhadar back into its fold, but forging partnership with other Madhes-based parties looks difficult. The RJPN and the FSFN have formed their own alliance in the Tarai, and are ready to partner with the NC only where they are weak.

Some of these are unholy alliances because parties are joining hands with those charged with, and even found guilty of, crime and corruption. Some parties are selling tickets to highest bidders, leaving their ideologically-committed cadre disillusioned.

The alliances could still go in any direction before Sunday’s nomination deadline. But no matter who wins the polls in 32 mountain districts on 26 November and in the remaining districts on 7 December, it looks like the new Parliament and Provincial Assemblies will be dominated by those most responsible for the current state of the country.
Om Astha Rai

Reshuffle? Not yet.

Monday, October 9th, 2017

Sher-Bahadur-Deuba-RSSPolitics is a game of possibilities, and who knows it better than Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal?

Dahal articulated this political cliché, tabling a no-confidence motion in Parliament against PM KP Oli in August 2016. He then succeeded Oli as PM with the backing of his foe-turned-friend NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba.

But last week, when the country was waking up from the Dasain slumber, Dahal stabbed Deuba in his back by announcing a coalition with Oli.

It was a wholly unexpected blow to Deuba’s plan to keep Oli’s UML out of power for at least five years, by forging a long-term ruling coalition between his party and the Maoists.

In what looked like a fit of rage, Deuba began consulting constitution experts and lawyers and even mulled throwing the Maoists out of the government, and reshuffling the cabinet by inducting new ministers from the RJP, the FSFN and the RPPs.

Deuba also initiated a move to cobble a ‘democratic’ coalition to counter the left alliance, and the ultimate unification between the country’s two largest communist parties.

Of the three fringe parties whom Deuba needs if he is to kick the Maoists out of the Singha Darbar, the RPP led by Kamal Thapa, as expected, became the first party to express its interest in joining a government which will soon be rendered as a caretaker.

Thapa reportedly wants the Home Ministry – a key cabinet portfolio currently held by Maoist leader Janardan Sharma, and three other ministries. But the Maoists, aware of the benefits of being incumbent during elections, are not ready to quit and give the opportunity to Thapa and other Madhesi leaders.

Initially, Deuba wanted to force the Maoists out of the government, paving the way for Madhesi-RPP leaders. But now, he seems to have regained his composure, weighing the pros and cons of reshuffling the cabinet without Maoist ministers.

It seems Deuba changed his mind after a meeting with Dahal on last Friday. Sources say Dahal reminded Deuba that politics is a game of possibilities, and the chances of the Maoists once again ditching the UML and forming another coalition government with the NC will still be alive after elections.

“What if the Maoists fall out with the UML and their unification does not take place? They need us, and we need them,” said an NC source. “So it would not be wise to further strain relations with the Maoists by throwing them out of the government.”

So, at present, Deuba is unlikely to kick the Maoists out, and induct Madhesi-RPP leaders. It seems his strategy is to engage everyone but UML in negotiations, and prevent the Left Alliance from winning a two-thirds majority.

If the Left Alliance simply wins a two-third – not easy though, it will form the government, and the NC will be left out of power longer than ever in the past. If it just wins a majority, the NC will have time and space to play and create rifts within the Left Alliance, and pull the Maoists away.

Possibilities are unlimited, and PM Deuba has kept all the doors open.

Om Astha Rai


Art of the impossible

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017
Pic: Gopen Rai

Pics: Gopen Rai

Nepal’s political love triangle got a new twist even as the country emerged from the Dasain holidays: the  UML and the Maoists baffled pundits by announcing an electoral alliance, which they say could lead to an eventual merger between the two largest communist parties.

Not one to be left out of all the action, ex-Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai’s New Force also joined the alliance at the last moment and was present with other senior comrades at a noisy press conference on Tuesday evening at the Nepal Academy. There were loud cheers from supporters as the leaders spoke, justifying the unity.

unified 2The three parties signed a six-point deal at the function under which they will first join hands to contest federal-parliamentary elections in November and announce a unified party later. They said the alliance was not directed against anyone, least of all at the Nepali Congress with whom the Maoists are in a coalition at present.

The UML and the Maoists will field their candidates in 60 and 40 per cent of the total constituencies respectively, allocating a proportion to the New Force and other parties that may later join the alliance.

PM Sher Bahadur Deuba appears to have been caught unaware and invited Dahal to Baluwatar on Tuesday morning to try to convince him not to go through with the alliance. But Dahal just assured Deuba he would keep the ruling coalition intact until elections.

unified 3In August 2016, Deuba had toppled the Oli government, talking Dahal into forming an alliance with the NC instead of the UML. Deuba backed Dahal as PM until the first phase of local elections, and supported his daughter’s mayoral candidacy in Bharatpur metropolitan city of Chitwan.

Deuba and Dahal had discussed at length ways of forging a long-lasting alliance, keeping the UML out of power. But Maoist leaders say Dahal felt ‘ignored’ and even ‘humiliated’ at times after Deuba became PM in June, especially during the last phase of local elections in Province 2 just before Dasain.

Wary of the long-term NC-Maoists partnership, and somewhat humbled by the results of the Province 2 polls, Oli approached Dahal, and the two leaders discussed the possibility of a communist alliance.

Times were when politics went into a six week hibernation during the Dasain-Tihar-Chhat autumn festival in Nepal. It was therefore a good sign that the leaders of the three-party cartel did not waste their Dasain, and indulged in more than just carnivorous merry-making.

Even the cleverest analyst could not have predicted the dramatic announcement on Tuesday that the UML and the Maoist Centre had agreed on an electoral alliance.  The UML and Maoists have proven once more that that there are no permanent friends and no permanent foes in politics, and that politics is the art of the impossible. Even so, the political promiscuity among the NC-UML-Maoists is getting shamelessly opportunistic.

There are several factors that prompted this new alignment. The UML lost the Tarai in the Province 2 elections, and needs to regain the plains vote bank for parliamentary polls. The Maoists did better than they themselves expected, which convinced K P Oli that he couldn’t yet write off Pushpa Kamal Dahal.  The strong showing of the NC in voting in the Tarai also seems to have spooked the Comrades. Besides all this, the NC and the Maoists seem to have belatedly realised that theirs was an unnatural relationship,  and two parties that are ideologically so far apart that they would just not be compatible.

After the initial euphoria of immediate party unity, reality appears to have set in and the UML and the Maoists decided against contesting elections under the same ballot symbol. They will, however, be coordinating the distribution of tickets and be hoping as Baburam Bhattarai said at the press conference “to win not just a simple but a two-thirds majority” in the new Parliament. They have also agreed to take turns leading the coalition after January 2018, if they win.

The leaders who spoke all said the ideology of the party was centered on ensuring political stability so that the country could move towards “socialist-oriented prosperity”.

Dahal and Oli have justified the new alliance as a partnership between ‘nationalist’ forces. Waving the flag against perceived external enemies has always been a good electoral strategy, and Dahal especially seems to want to benefit from hanging on to Oli’s coat-tails.

Om Astha Rai and Kunda Dixit