By Fred Weston and Pablo Sanchez
Thursday, 17 April 2008
As we write these lines the votes cast in the recent Nepalese elections are still being counted, but with most of the first-past-the-post seats declared and more than 4.5 million votes checked, the Maoists have achieved an outstanding result, a clear indication that the masses desire a radical change.
For the first time in eight years the Nepali people have been able to express their views in an election, and there is no doubt what those views are! These were the first elections since the October movement that had led to the Maoists being brought back into "legality" and also into a coalition government with the mainstream political forces.
There were months of negotiations about which electoral system should be adopted, which also saw the army in parliament, and this was then followed by a bloody electoral campaign. In fact the celebration of the elections on the terms demanded by the Nepali Congress terms, i.e. before the declaration of a Republic, is an indication of how much the Maoists have been willing to concede.
They have in fact come a long way since the days of their guerrilla campaign, which saw them control a large part of the country. From that position, they have given up the armed struggle, agreed to integrate their armed groups into the official army and even agreed to join a government with bourgeois parties. This is all in line with a classical Maoist outlook, which states that because Nepal is so underdeveloped the immediate perspective is not one of a struggle for socialism, but some form of bourgeois democracy, i.e. the "first stage" of the two-stage theory.
However, the way the masses have voted would indicate that they are very much intent on leaping over the first stage and move towards socialism. The fact that they voted so massively for a party that is called Communist and up until very recently was attempting to come to power through the armed struggle, would confirm that. So far, the Maoists have won 116 seats out of the 218 declared in the first-past-the-post part of the election, out of a total of 240.
The great losers in these elections are the Nepali Congress, that gained only 32 seats. This reduces it to the same level as the other, more "moderate" Communist Party, the CPN-UML, which has gained 31 seats. The CPN-UML had in fact pulled out of the government becoming the main opposition party, due to its bad electoral result. The regionalist Madhesi parties won around 30 seats, and they are the only real force that remains that can defend the keeping of the monarchy.
One of the ironies of this situation is that the Maoist leaders were so pessimistic about their own prospects that they feared a majority first-past-the-post electoral system. That explains in part why the electoral system adopted has been a mix, a hybrid, between seats elected on a proportional representation (PR) basis and a section of first-past-the-post seats. In the end the PR section is going to save the face of the bourgeois parties, especially the Nepali Congress, who would have been completely smashed if all the MPs had been elected on the basis of a majority system.
In the complicated system they have adopted, the two votes, PR and first-past-the-post, were not linked to each other. In any case, the results so far would indicate that the Maoists will get around 30% overall, while both the Congress and CPN-UML stand at around 20%, and the regionalists will score less than 10%.
The new Parliament is made up of 601 MPs, of which 335 will be elected by the PR system, 240 by the majority system and 26 are to be appointed by the government. This will very probably mean the Maoists will be by far the biggest force, but possibly short of getting an absolute majority. This would allow them to form an alliance of the left forces (the five communist organisations with electoral representation in the Chamber) which would have a clear majority in parliament.
Here again, we see the massive shift to the left: the combined vote of the two main Communist parties stands at about 50%! Thus rather than seeking any alliances with the parties that represent the weak Nepalese bourgeoisie, the two main Communist parties should be thinking in terms of a United Front without bourgeois parties and leading the masses in the struggle for socialism. Unfortunately, it is unclear what parliamentary tactic the Maoists will adopt.
They have two options now. The first is to refuse any alliance with bourgeois parties, unite all the Communist forces, and by mobilising the masses outside parliament lead them in the struggle for a socialist Nepal. The other option is to enter into negotiations with forces such as the Nepali Congress on the basis that this is the so-called "democratic stage" of the revolution. This would also involve holding back the masses and explaining to them that it is necessary to join forces with the so-called "progressive wing of the bourgeoisie."
Maoists send a soothing message to bourgeois
As could be expected, Prachanda and other Maoists leaders have been very quick to issue statements calming down anyone who might think that the former guerrilla leaders may go "too radical". Prachanda in talks with the Indian Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee and EU foreign affairs officials said that, "he avowed his commitment towards the peace process, multiparty democracy and economic development". (Nepal news.com, April 17, 2008). This is in line with the policies of the Maoists leaders of rejecting any move towards socialism, sticking to their programme of "social development" of Nepal within the confines of capitalism, while abolishing the monarchy.
The Nepalese masses will be expecting serious change from this new parliament. In fact the Maoists will now come under enormous pressure to deliver the goods. But they will also come under huge pressure from the bourgeois forces both in Nepal and internationally. These will put in motion their machinery to make sure that the Maoists resist the pressure from below and do not go too far in their social and economic policies. Meanwhile the Terai and Madhesi regionalist movements will be used to continue their campaign against the democratically elected government.
It is clear that the Nepali ruling class is deeply divided between a staunchly monarchist wing on the one hand and those that see Gyanendra as a dead weight, who because of his stupidity and stubbornness was responsible for the Maoist victory. This king took the crown after the dramatic events in 2001, when ten members of the royal family were massacred by the crown prince, including the king and queen, who then took his own life.
The following year in October the new king, Gyanendra, dismissed the prime minister and his cabinet. He accused them of "incompetence" after they had dissolved parliament and had proven incapable of holding elections due to the ongoing insurgency. The king thought that the insurgency was merely a question of incompetence of the ministers. He was completely out of touch with the real situation on the ground.
In June 2004 although he did not re-establish parliament, he reinstated the most recently elected prime minister who formed a four-party coalition government. But then again blaming it for its inability to tackle the Maoist insurgency he dissolved the government in February 2005 and declared a state of emergency, imprisoning party leaders, and assuming power directly. The state of emergency was brought to an end in May 2005, but the king held on to absolute power until April 2006.
That was when three weeks of mass protests forced the king to reconvene parliament. Reality was beating the king on the head repeatedly, but he seemed incapable of really understanding what was happening, believing he could dictate as in the past. In spite of the king, in November 2006 a deal, a peace accord, between the government and the Maoists, allowed for an interim constitution to be promulgated. It was on this basis that the Maoists were allowed to enter parliament in January 2007.
That same accord entailed a new Constituent Assembly whose task it would be to draw up a new constitution. The recent elections are part of that process. All this has been done in spite of the king, not thanks to him. The more serious and far-sighted bourgeois leaders, clearly receiving advice from imperialism, understood that in the face of such mass opposition they could not continue to rule in the old way. As they had done previously in South Africa with the ANC, in Palestine with the PLO, and even in the North of Ireland with Sinn Fein, they understood that the only way of stabilising the situation was to open negotiations with the recognised leaders of the masses. In this case that was the leadership of the Maoist guerrillas.
By making "democratic" concessions to these leaders, who were already inclined to accept the market economy, i.e. capitalism, as the base upon which all political developments should be based, they hoped to use them to hold the masses back from overthrowing the system s a whole.
A recent statement by the President of the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), Kush Kumar Joshi, is an indication of this. He has said that the incoming Maoist-led government should adopt a "liberal" economic policy. We can expect much more of this kind of "advice" both from the bourgeois commentators inside Nepal and internationally. It is rather unfortunate that the Maoist leaders seem to give more credence to the opinions of these people rather than to those of the millions of workers and poor who have elected them.
What will happen to the king is not totally clear, although it does seem that on this question at least a move towards a republic is inevitable. The king himself is an unpredictable figure, but his personal position is not the unimportant issue here. The bourgeois can easily accept that he must go, if in exchange they can get the Maoists to accept a moderate stance.
One thing is clear: this electoral victory is proof of the power of the Nepali masses and it also is a vote of confidence in those who led the guerrilla struggle for over a decade. It clearly shows the willingness of the masses to transform society, and it would be criminal not capitalise on all this support. There is the danger that by accepting a bourgeois parliamentary "stage" the Maoists will be sucked into spending a lot of time in committees and elections. The new Assembly now has the task of voting on a new Constitution, probably holding a referendum, which would then be followed by new elections. This is the terrain that the bourgeois politicians prefer. They are experts in dragging out processes, delving into the detailed minutiae of each legal change. In the meantime the masses will be expecting alleviation from the miserable conditions they live in.
The population of Nepal stands at around 30 million, and a few figures give an idea of the level of underdevelopment of this country. It is among the poorest countries in the world. Three quarters of the population still makes a living from agriculture. GDP per capita stands at only US$1,100 per year. Almost one-third of its population lives below the official poverty line, unemployment stands at the staggering level of 42% and more than half the population is illiterate. Inflation officially stands at around 9% but is obviously much higher, especially in the recent months with massive food price hikes.
The Maoists therefore now have a big responsibility on their shoulders. They will not be able to tackle the serious economic problems if they form an alliance with any of the bourgeois parties and if they spend most of their time discussing constitutional change. The masses have voted not for talks but concrete action against poverty
The bourgeois are preparing a trap for the Maoists. In fact Koirala, the current President, has already called for a coalition government and all the pressure will be on the Maoists to go as slow as possible. If they do this it will only strengthen the right wing and the bourgeoisie. A clear indication of the tactics the ruling class are adopting comes from the chairman of the country's chamber of commerce who has praised the Maoist leaders for their promise to "listen to the private sector" when working out economic policy. By this it seems the Maoist leaders are preparing to "manage capitalism". In line with this are declarations by Prachanda in favour of a "mixed economy".
The Royal Army is also falling into line with the needs of the moment. It has expressed its commitment to work under the direction of an elected government, and carry on the discussions concerning the integration of the guerrillas into the national army under UN control. The only demand of the military leaders is that the army should not be "politicised". By this they mean the Communists should not meddle in the affairs of the army. They conveniently ignore their own "political" role in a decade of struggle against a communist orientated guerrilla movement. The Maoists are now pushing for the full integration of its former guerrillas into the army.
The Maoists will undoubtedly continue to have genuine mass support for some time. They have only just been elected and the masses will have a degree of patience. Thus they will have some breathing space, but so will the bourgeois and the imperialists, who are manoeuvring behind the scenes. As part of this process, the Maoists will most likely push for the abolition of the monarchy and for the introduction of other democratic measures, all things that the Marxists would support. Senior Maoist leaders have in fact "urged the country's beleaguered King Gyanendra to step down ‘gracefully'," according to BBC News, (April 16, 2008). However, the fact that they "urge" the king to go, rather than mobilise a mass movement behind this demand, is an indication of their approach.
The mass of workers, peasants and poor in general will be waiting for the proposals any new government will make concerning their real concrete living conditions.
What government now?
Prachanda has said that they are for an economy in which capitalists can make profit. He also excluded any "dictatorship of the proletariat". In his address to the business leaders in Kathmandu after the election the Maoist Chairman announced that power will not be used tyrannically, but for the welfare of the people and the country. (Kantipur online, April 16, 2008). Here the "people and the country" clearly means all the classes put together. The problem is that under capitalism you can either defend the interests of the working people or that of the capitalists (and landlords); you cannot satisfy both!
The Maoist Chairman has said that his government will adopt a "new transitional economic system" for economic growth, and he also added that political development is intertwined with the economy. In their manifesto for the Constituent Assembly, the former rebels envisaged a new "transitional economic policy" with medium level development over the next 10 years, high level growth in 20 years and ultra-high level development in the country in 40 years' time. This is perfectly in line with the traditional thinking of the Maoists: first there has to be economic development and only much later can we envisage any form of socialism. The difference here is that there is no mention of socialism, only "ultra-high" levels of economic development, under capitalism!
All this is posed in a completely abstract manner. The most powerful economy in the world, that of the USA, is clearly already in recession. The economy in the EU countries is slowing down. This will inevitably have a knock-on effect around the world and little Nepal cannot escape from the same process. Capitalist growth in China has clearly influenced the leadership of the Nepalese Maoists. They now seem to be "Dengists" rather than Maoists!
They have swallowed the whole idea of capitalist-type development. Following on from the industrialists' and businessmen's demands for better security, the Maoist Chairman remarked that an industrial security force will be formed during the process of army integration. He further stressed on the need for a new policy for taxation.
The Maoist second-in-command Dr Babu Ram Bhattarai has also assured that the government led by the Maoists will move ahead with the Public Private Partnership (PPP) theory. This is a very dangerous turn after more than a decade of struggle and sacrifice. Convincing the capitalists and imperialists to contribute to improving the conditions of the masses is going to be a very difficult task indeed. The Maoists are trying to please the masses and the capitalists at the same time; this is not going to be possible.
Dr Bhattarai, in a recent interview, in fact said:
"China eliminated the feudal system during Mao's regime. It established a solid foundation for economic growth. We could have thought of making rapid economic progress had the country been liberated from the age-old feudal system. When you inject new technology after the foundation for economic growth has been established, you can achieve such development. We don't have such a foundation now. Once we restructure the state and involve the private sector, it will be possible to achieve rapid economic growth. We would implement a transitional economic policy during such an interim period which involves public and private partnership.
"We can't think of developing this country in the absence of domestic and foreign investments. Technological inputs are of equal importance. So, we will follow the policy of attracting domestic and foreign investments. For that to happen, we have to put an end to political instability."
No doubt the imperialists will be delighted to hear these words. Here are the former leaders of a powerful guerrilla army, adopting a completely pro-market position. The Nepali Maoists are attempting to apply Deng's line to their little, underdeveloped country. But there are some important differences: Nepal has not had a period of 30 years of planned economy that built up the basic infrastructure of China, followed by more than 20 years of industrialization based on capitalist methods. Nepal is too weak, its material base is too limited, for this kind of "modern capitalism" to emerge. At best, under capitalism, Nepal will simply be the victim of this or that imperialist power. In the present context it will be a point of conflict between Indian capitalism and China.
Nepal is at a historic turning point: if the Maoists put forward a bold economic programme of socialist transformation, along with the abolition of the monarchy, they would have the overwhelming support of the masses. The bourgeois, the right-wing forces and the imperialists are very weak in Nepal. In fact they can only hold the situation if the Maoist leaders accept the role the imperialists have reserved for them. If the Maoists go down this road it will be a huge mistake that will be paid for dearly by the masses in the years to come.
The Maoists leaders need to understand that in the current stage of capitalism (and in a situation where the world is heading towards a major economic crisis) there is no room for any stable economic development over a decade, let alone over 40 years!
The masses of the Indian subcontinent are on the move. We saw this clearly when up to three million people turned up to welcome Benazir Bhutto on her return to Pakistan. In India we have seen powerful strikes and even an 80 million strong general strike a couple of years ago. The future is one of growing instability, economic crisis and social turmoil, not one of stability and economic growth. The Bhutanese Maoists have launched a guerrilla war, further confirming this point.
The problem of the Nepalese Maoists is that they have a narrow national outlook. They cannot see the growing class conflict all around the world. They cannot understand the severity of the economic crisis that is developing. The future in the whole region is one of intensified class struggle. This is the perspective they should base themselves on. Although Nepal is too small and underdeveloped to build socialism on its own, it can become the spark that sets the whole subcontinent ablaze.