Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Prachanda meets his Waterloo, China under fire

Despite a furious attempt to break an opposing alliance of four Terai parties and regain power, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda still met his Waterloo on Tuesday, losing the prime ministerial election for a record seventh time, and dragging his mentor, China, into dispute.

While the 55-year-old's defeat was almost certain, as it had been in the earlier six rounds, in a stunning development, the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu came under fire with nearly 200 protesters demonstrating outside. Instead of "Free Tibet" protesters, Tuesday's march was led by a little known students' group -- the Free Youth Organisation – that claimed to have over 20,000 members in Hong Kong and Malaysia as well.

While a grim-faced parliament chairman Subas Nembang was telling the weary house that Prachanda had received only 252 votes and his rival, Nepali Congress parliamentary party chief Ram Chandra Poudel, 119 and so, none had reached the winning mark of 300, about 200 people shouted slogans outside the Chinese embassy in another part of the capital. "We oppose all foreign intervention in Nepal's internal affairs," said some of the banners while students called for Maoist MP Krishna Bahadur Mahara – alleged to have been caught in a bribery scam involving Chinese money -- to leave Nepal.

"We strongly deplore the act of China trying to use money to influence our internal politics," a protest letter handed over by the marchers to the embassy said. "We also deplore the action of some of our politicians, who are well respected as revolutionaries, in demanding and accepting the bribes offered by China."

The unprecedented seven rounds of election, that still failed to choose a new prime minister more than two months after Madhav Kumar Nepal was forced to quit by the Maoists, now threaten to develop into a diplomatic offensive with both Nepal's neighbours China and India coming under attack. The Maoists have been blaming India's "interference" for their failure to win and have been fanning an anti-India campaign that continues to target Indian investment companies in Nepal, especially Dabur Nepal.

Now China, regarded as an "all weather friend" by both the royalists and Maoists alike, has been dragged into the controversy with the surfacing of an audio tape which, apparently, catches Maoist former minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara seeking to meet a Chinese "friend" in Hong Kong ready to pay NRS 500 million, that would have bought the extra votes Prachanda needs to win the election. Though both the Chinese embassy and the Maoists called the tape baseless and fabricated, the furore refuses to die down. On Tuesday, Poudel's party submitted a memorandum to the PM, urging an inquiry into the allegations of horse-trading in parliament. The cabinet had already on Monday decided to initiate an inquiry after consultations with Nembang.

The seventh round of failed election saw another change. The Maoists have been partly successful in breaking the Terai alliance. Former foreign minister Upendra Yadav and his Madhesi Janadhikar Forum Nepal are now supporting the Maoists. But as Yadav has only 25 MPs, the support is not enough for Prachanda to win. The new alliance will cause the breakaway Terai party to face the slur of having been bought with Chinese money.

Four years after the end to the Maoist insurgency, Nepal now sits on a ticking time bomb. Yet another election can't be held before Sept 26, till the Nepali Congress has held its general convention. Even then, unless the party equations change or the election procedure, the battle will prove to be inconclusive.

Meanwhile, the lawmakers have not progressed with the crucial task of writing the new constitution that could not be implemented in May due to the cold war between the parties. They have an additional problem to face as well as the UN may decide to withdraw its political agency, the UN Mission in Nepal ( UNMIN) due to lack of progress in the dismantling of the Maoist cantonments with their nearly 20,000 combatants. The UN Security Council will be briefed on Nepal by Ban Ki-moon in New York Tuesday and the UN chief may advocate ending UNMIN's role in the Himalayan republic.