Nepali Times

Violence erupts in Saptari

Monday, March 6th, 2017
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UML Chair KP Oli during his party’s Mechi-Mahakali campaign.

The much-feared confrontation in the Tarai between rival political parties for and against elections ignited in Saptari on Monday, leaving four dead in police firing.

Four people were killed and 11 injured when protesters clashed with police in Saptari on Monday, and there is fear that the violence will spread as UML and Madhes-based parties are likely to battle more for dominance of the Tarai.

An East-West caravan of UML supporters has been making its way through Province 2 despite obstructions by Tarai-centric parties. After the Saptari incident, the UML decided to put the parade on hold for three days.

Two days after flagging off its Mechi-Mahakali campaign in the easternmost plains district of Jhapa, the UML on Monday entered Province 2, which Tarai-centric parties consider their heartland and where they have portrayed the UML as an anti-Madhes party.

As the 4 km-long convoy of nearly 600 trucks, jeeps and cars carrying about 4,000 UML supporters crossed the Kosi barrage, hundreds of supporters of Tarai-centric parties tried stop the caravan.

But police kept them off the East-West highway, clashing with baton-wielding protesters in some places. However, after the UML concluded its program in Saptari, violence erupted and two Madhesi protester were killed in police firing on the spot. Two others died on their way to hospital in Dharan.

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Madhesi protesters in Saptari. Pic: Shrawan Kumar Deo

Shortly before the violence, UML Chair KP Oli, clad in white kurta-suruwal and a polka-dotted shawl around his neck, had warned Madhesi parties: “the UML is here to stay and not going away from the Tarai.”

During the six-month Madhes agitation against the Constitution that was pushed through by UML and two other major parties – the NC and the Maoists, Oli was critical of Madhesi parties. His statements often antagonised Madhesi people, and Madhesi Front dubbed him an anti-Madhesi.

Ahead of local elections slated for 14 May, Oli wants to re-cultivate his image in the eyes of Madhesi people, and prove that UML is still more powerful in the plains than the combined strength of all Tarai-centric parties.

Madhesi parties won just 12 seats from the Tarai in 2013 – down from 43 seats in 2008. UML outshone Madhesi parties even in the Tarai bywinning 36 seats. But after the Madhes agitation, UML is believed to have lost some ground in the Tarai.

“The UML’s electoral prospect in the Tarai largely depends on the  success or failure of its Mechi-Mahakali campaign,” says Indu Shekhar Mishra, a Birganj-based political observer. “This is why Madhesi parties are determined to disrupt the UML.”

On the eve of its make-or-break campaign in Madhes, the UML appointed 12 Madhesi leaders into its central committee (CC), and nine more as alternative CC members. “It shows UML is yearning for love in the Madhes,” Mishra says. “But it has done little to solve the political crisis.”

Two weeks after Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal announced local polls, Tarai-centric parties are yet to come on board. They want certain provisions of the constitution to be amended before polls so they can triumphantly go to their constituencies.

But the Dahal government, backed by the Nepali Congress and Madhesi parties, is unable to secure a two-thirds majority to pass theamendment bill. The UML is determined not to allow any amendments.

“Instead of showing their power on the streets of the Tarai, both UML and Madhesi parties must engage in constructive dialogues in Kathmandu,” says Mishra.

Om Astha Rai

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Plain speaking

 


With or without

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017
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In a televised address to the nation on Tuesday, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal urged the Madhesi people to express their grievances through the ballot box. Umesh Sah Kanu  was watching the speech live in his Birganj sweet shop, and said it was “just sweet talk”.

Kanu says he is not sure if he will vote in local elections on 14 May if Madhesi parties boycott it. However, he does not support another agitation. The last one last year ruined his business.
Back in Kathmandu, talks between the government and the Madhesi Front were deadlocked again on Wednesday. Tarai-centric parties renewed threats to disrupt elections in the plains if the constitution is not amended first.

Birganj professor Lalan Dubedi says: “The common people here are not that concerned about the amendment. But they will not vote if there is fear of violence.”

In Janakpur, Prof Surendra Labh says it was never about the amendment or constitution. “Madhesis feel they are discriminated by the state, and the government made it worse by not including enough Madhesis in recent appointments of judges and ambassadors.”

Labh feels Madhesi parties need a face-saver to agree to elections: “If the statute is amended, they can go triumphantly to their constituencies, but whether that will address problems plaguing the plains is another issue.”

So far, the Madhesi parties are staying firm even though there is no way the proposed amendment will get a two-thirds vote in Parliament because the UML, RPP and MJF (D) are all against it for different reasons.

RPP Chair Kamal Thapa told PM Dahal his party will not support the amendment. Dahal then asked Madhesi leaders to put the amendment bill on hold and vote on it after local elections in May. Madhesi leaders refused.

“The amendment is just an excuse to avoid elections,” says UML Chief Whip Bhanubhakta Dhakal. “Madhesi parties will find another excuse if the Constitution is amended. There should be elections with or without them.”

Former PM Baburam Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti party is also opposed to elections, and wants an all-party government. He is now competing for the same constituency with the Sajha Party launched by journalist Rabindra Mishra this week.

Surendra Labh in Janakpur sums it up: “Elections can take place without the Madhesi parties. That may end the constitutional transition, but it will prolong the political transition.”

Om Astha Rai and Jiyalal Sah in Birganj

Read also:

Federalism is the talk of the town, Kristina Shperlik

The Madhes message, Chandra Kishor

 


Interviewing Rabindra Mishra

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017
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From the Nepali Press

After stepping down as the head of BBC Nepali, Rabindra Mishra is forming a new political party www.setopati.com, 28 February

Setopati: Can you tell us about the perks of your job at BBC Nepali Service?

Rabindra Mishra: I drew a monthly salary of Rs 700,000. The office gave me a car, health insurance for me and four members of my family and paid my telephone bill. A journalist cannot expect more than this in Nepal. But from tomorrow, I will not be earning a paisa.

Then how will you survive?  

I have savings. And I will be collecting rent from my two houses. I also have to pay back some loans. I will be devoting least 15-16 hours a day to politics, and will work honestly.

Do you have what it takes to transform politics?

It is a huge challenge to put our politics back on track. But many countries which were in a worse situation than ours are now developed and stable. I am confident that we can turn around things in Nepal too. My biggest asset is the support of honest and like-minded Nepalis. Our primary team is diverse in terms of ethnicity, age and profession. We hope more people will join us as we move forward.

When did you first think about joining politics?

I returned from the UK to spend part of my time in philanthropy. But this was like trying to fill the Rani Pokhari with a bucket of water. We built 40 libraries, but over 32,000 schools in Nepal do not have libraries. So I thought the only way is to join politics.

Why a new party?

I was afraid politicians in existing parties would turn me into one of them. Just look at the appointments of the new police chief and ambassadors.

What is your party’s take on the democracy movements of 1990 and 2006?

We always blame our constitution and political system for our problems. We are always fighting to change them. Our constitution was written in a democratic way, and we can develop Nepal within its framework.

There are doubts about whether elections will be held in May.

We can solve it in Parliament. We must address genuine grievances of the Madhesi people, but some of their demands are not genuine, and will benefit only a few Madhesi leaders. The political leadership can decide whether to go for federalism, but the form of federalism has to be decided by experts.

The Madhesi parties were left out of the constitution making process, isn’t that a problem? 

A constitution is a work in progress, it has to be improved constantly. Some problems are due to a lack of trust. Whether we separate Madhes from hills or keep them together while creating provinces does not make a difference.

Shouldn’t you have tried to clean up journalism before trying to clean up politics?

The problems that plague journalism are an offshoot of our corrupt politics. If you clean up politics, you can clean up everything, including journalism.

Will your party contest local elections?

The time to register political parties at the Election Commission has already passed, so we cannot  contest local elections. We will see if we can field some independent candidates. But our target is national elections.

 


Dahal talks to Madhes

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017
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Umesh Sah Kanu (left) listens to PM Dahal’s televised address to the nation at his own sweet shop in Birganj on Monday evening. Photo: Jiyalal Sah

A week after the government announced the date of local elections, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Tuesday went directly to the people of the plains and asked them to participate in polls despite opposition from Madhesi leaders.

“This election is an opportunity for people in Madhes to express their grievances through ballot paper,” Dahal said. “I am confident that the people in the Madhes will take part in this historic process.”

Dahal used his address televised live to extol his own accomplishments, taking credit for ending load-shedding and speeding infrastructure projects like the Kathmandu-Tarai fast track road.

But he spent most of his 15-minute address trying to persuade the Madhesi parties and people to accept the Constitution and participate in elections.

“No other community needed this constitution more than the Madhesi people, and I can understand their grievances as I was elected from the Madhes,” he said.

Dahal said he was himself not fully satisfied with the content of the constitution but compromised on it because the forces that wanted to undermine the gains of the 2006 Democracy Movement were conspiring against it. He said these forces are still trying to undermine federalism, secularism and principles of inclusion by foiling the constitution and eventually dividing the country.

“I have a question to Madhesi people: will you want these forces to succeed in undermining our achievements and dividing the country?” he asked rhetorically.

Hours before his address, Dahal had held a meeting with Madhesi parties at Baluwatar, and tried to convince them to agree to local polls by postponing the constitution amendment bill. He said it was going to be difficult to secure a two-thirds majority to pass the bill, and the ruling coalition was ready to move it forward only if the Madhesi parties agreed to accept the outcome of the vote in Parliament on the amendment.

The Tarai-centirc parties are still against participating in local elections without amending the constitution first. However, they have kept the door open by saying they will negotiate with the ruling coalition. Dahal is now trying to appease Madhesi parties by creating more local government bodies in Province 2.

In Birganj, Umesh Sah Kanu turned on the tv in his tea shop on Tuesday evening as Dahal began his speech, and said the prime minister should agree on the amendment before announcing elections.

But he said it would not be wise for Madhesi parties call for more street protests. “Madhesi parties must press for the amendment. But if they do not succeed, they must do it by themselves by gaining more power from elections,” he said, sipping milk tea from a little plastic cup.

Jiyalal Sah in Birganj


“People want local polls”

Sunday, February 26th, 2017
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MP Radheshyam Adhikari in an interview with Himal Khabarpatrika, 26 February-4 March. 

HK: Now that local elections look certain, what does it mean?

Radheshyam Adhikari: We are late to hold local elections since  24 January 2018 is the last day of the current parliament, and we must hold all three elections before that. Only then will we begin heading in the right direction to implement the Constitution.

Why are local elections so important?   

We need to know we are now electing new local units, not old local bodies that drew their limited power from a law, and not the Constitution itself. But new local units have been defined in the Constitution itself, and will have much more power. Through these local units, local people can decide what would be best for them in health, education and social sectors. People can pay their land tax, and make passports at these local units. The government units will also function as quasi-judicial bodies, and resolve disputes at the local level.

Will new local units be able to enjoy all their rights enshrined in the Constitution?

They may not be able to enjoy all their rights in their first five-year tenure. But they will be enjoying more rights after every period election.

The Constitution has a provision to dissolve provincial governments, but not local units. Why?

Even provincial governments cannot be dissolved easily. The centre can dissolve only those provincial governments that attempt to secede from the country. But there is no room for secessionist activities in local units. Hence, there is no constitutional provision to dissolve local units.

Do you see threats to local elections?

People are desperate to cast their votes in local elections, so there is no threat.

Some people say this election will not be different than the one held by King Gyanendra.

All major parties with nationwide networks are for local elections. So other parties cannot stay out of this process. They will certainly take part in elections. There is no doubt about it.


The year of elections

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017
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Pic: Bikram Rai

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, after waffling for months, has finally decided to bite the bullet on elections. He stretched it for as long as he could because once local elections are held in May, he has to vacate the prime ministership to Sher Bahadur Deuba of the NC.

Madhesi parties are not on board yet, and have threatened to disrupt elections in Province 2. But Dahal is in no mood to back off now, he too needs elections to boldter his party’s numbers in Parliament.

2017 may turn out to be The Year of Elections. After two decades, there will finally be elections for 34,203 representatives in 719 local councils and municipalities.

Following a Supreme Court ruling that Parliament’s term cannot be extended beyond 21 January 2018, the government ran out of excuses to postpone polls. After local elections on 14 May, there have to be polls for provincial councils and federal parliament by the end of 2017.

Dahal faces hurdles all the way. He has to get Parliament to debate the Second Amendment to appease the Tarai-based parties who are still balking. He has succeeded in defanging the transitional justice commissions but faces criticism from the international community.

UML Chair K P Oli has finally allowed Parliament to discuss the amendment bill from Thursday as a compromise for elections to go ahead. But Chief Whip Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal told Nepali Times: “We will do everything to foil this amendment.”

The UML had obstructed the House for two months, but has concluded that the ruling parties will fail to secure a two-thirds majority and is therefore ready to put the amendments to a vote.

Dahal’s previous strategy was to win the vote by giving ministerial berths to Kamal Thapa’s RPP, Bijaya Gachhadar’s MJF (D) and other fringe parties. But these parties backed off because they knew Dahal’s days were numbered.

Outgoing Indian Ambassador Ranjit Rae visited the Election Commission on Thursday, and reportedly told officials India was ready to support elections if they are held. The UML is now asking Madhesi parties to accept the verdict of the vote on the amendment, but they are not in a mood to.

Mahendra Raya Yadav of Tarai Madhes Sadbhavna Party told us: “The amendment bill has to be passed. If it fails, the constitution will fail.”

Om Astha Rai

 


Gridlock again

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017
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After the main opposition UML decided to obstruct parliament proceedings, the House was put off without discussing the second amendment to the constitution bill on Wednesday.

Two days after the government decided to hold local elections on 14 May, the ruling parties wanted to move forward the amendment bill in an attempt to persuade Madhesi parties to participate in the polls.

But nine opposition partied led by the UML decided to obstruction the House if the amendment bill was discussed. And the Parliament secretariat postponed Parliament until Thursday afternoon.

Asked if the UML will disrupt the House on Thursday as well, the party’s Chief Whip Gokul Gharti told Nepali Times: “I cannot tell it now, but I can tell is we are against this amendment, and will do everything to foil it.”

UML’s decision might force Madhesi parties to harden their stance. They have already decided to boycott elections nationwide, and disrupt polls in the Tarai. Asked about the success of local elections without Madhesi parties, Gharti said: “Elections and constitution amendment are two different issues, let us not mix them.”

Madhesi parties had supported the Pushpa Kamal Dahal government in the hope that the Maosit-NC ruling coalition would amend the Constitution. But the UML wanted elections, not the amendment.

Stuck between the UML and Madhesi parties at a time when the Election Commission was running out of time, the government announced the poll date, and then tried to appease Madhesi parties by moving forward the amendment bill.

But UML’s new decision has widened its rift with Madhesi parties, which called a strike on Wednesday in the Tarai against the poll announcement. Madhesi cadres pelted stones at the house of UML leader Raghubir Mahaseth in Janakpur, resulting in a clash between them and UML activists. Two were injured in the clash.


 

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