The Maoist Electoral Victory in Nepal: Interview with Shyam Shrestha, Former Chief Editor of Mulyankan Monthly Magazine

The elections in Nepal on Thursday, April 10th, resulted in a victory for the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), stunning the mainstream international press.

Mulyankan monthly magazine is almost 18 years old.  It is the largest leftist monthly magazine of Nepal, with a circulation of 30 000 copies per month.  Shyam Shrestha has been actively seeking to promote a broad left unity in Nepal.


Sunday,13th of April, 2008.

JPA: What do we know about the results of the election to the Constituent Assembly, now three days after?

Shyam: To this date the Maoists have won 47 seats out of 84 in the first past the post part of the election, CPN(UML) 16, Nepali Congress 12, Madhesi  Forum 6, Nepal Workers’ and Peasants’ Party 2, DMDP 1 and the People’s Front 1.  The Maoists will also win the proportional part of the election, maybe even by more.

As of the end of the day on Monday, April 14th, winners have been declared in 184 of the 240 “first past the post” constituencies. Of these the Maoists have won105, the Nepal Congress 30, the UML 24, and the Madhesi Forum 16. The final results for the 335 proportional representation seats will not be known for several weeks, but it is now certain that in the forthcoming Constituent Assembly the Maoists will at minimum be the dominant bloc with as many seats as the next three largest parties combined. — Ed.

JPA: Can we say anything about the representation of Dalits, women, ethnic and national minorities in the forthcoming Constituent Assembly?

Shyam: The proportion of these groups will be increased significantly, because in the proportional system 50% should be women, 31% Madhesi and so on.  In the first past the post part this is not compulsory, so in totality the proportion of women will be minimum 33% instead of 6% which is the proportion in today’s interim parliament.  This is an historic high. Janajati (ethnic minority) people will also increase their representation.  Not by exactly 37%, decided by the interim parliament, but it will increase.  A Madhesi party, MJF already have 6 representatives.  Dalits and backward regions will also increase their representation.  So all these groups will have a multiple increase of representation compared to the previous parliaments.

JPA: What do you think are the main consequences of the election for the parties in Nepal?

Shyam: The consequences are that the Maoists will emerge as the strongest political party in the Constituent Assembly.  It may get a clean majority, that is an historical record in Nepal.  Never before has a single party acquired a clean majority in Nepal.  If you add the votes of the CPN(UML) to the Maoist vote, they will have a two thirds majority.  And also this is historical. The consequence is that the CA can write a radical constitution.  Nepal will be a federal democratic republic for certain!  This is a political revolution through elections.  Three weeks from now the CA will come together and the first meeting will implement the decision to declare Nepal a federal republic.  This will be a tremendous revolution in the politics of Nepal.  And now that the Maoists and the CPN(UML) have over 66% it is quite certain that Nepal will be a republic for the first time in history.  Another consequence is that a new government will be formed and it will be headed by the Maoists.  This in itself is a significant event for the world as a whole. No Maoist has ever before led a government [installed by elections].  Major posts will be held by Maoists.

JPA: Even the defence ministry?

Shyam: Yes, the normal thing here is that the prime minister also heads the defence ministry.  The U.S. and Indians might protest against this, but the Nepali people have given their mandate.

The writing of the new constitution will be mainly influenced by the leftist forces, even though the Nepali Congress will have a significant representation.  They will also be represented in the government as it will be a coalition government.

JPA: Will the feudal class take this defeat lying down?

Shyam: They must.  They have no choice.  The Nepali people are rising, their level of arousal is amazing.  They are more ahead in consciousness than the leadership of the political parties.

The feudal class will try to resist change, but the CA composition and the level of awareness of the people is very high, they cannot withstand this pressure.

JPA: Which options do you think that the palace has?

Shyam: The palace has three options: 1. Accept the result happily and transform itself in accordance with the decisions of the CA.  The king would then become an ordinary citizen.  2. Flee from the country, as has happened in other countries.  3. Resist with the help of the army and face the blow of the people.  Today’s king is a very foolish king, he may even go for the third option.  But he will not be successful if he tries a coup d’état.

JPA: Gyanendra and family are a very rich family.  Is it possible for the state to retrieve some of the money that the king has stowed away?

Shyam: The state has already decided that whatever property he has in banks around the world, except for his personal property, shall be expropriated.  All the land, palaces and money.  The state has retrieved the money from the banks in Kathmandu, but not from foreign banks.  The personal money of the king will not be touched but the money belonging to the former [murdered] king Birendra will be confiscated.  It’s billions!  All the land, temple lands and palaces that belonged to Birendra will be confiscated.  This has been decided by law and now it is a matter of implementation.

JPA: The Maoist organization was small in 1996.  Now, 12 years later it is the strongest organization in Nepal.  Can you explain this explosive growth and the consequences of such an explosive growth on the organization itself?

Shyam: There are two reason.  

1. During the past 12 years the people’s war encompassed the whole country.  The Maoist organization successfully multiplied reaching 72 of the 75 districts.  They built their organization through this war.  It was amazing, but they managed.  They formed organizations in all fields, like among peasants, workers, artists and so on during the civil war.  At the end of the war 80% of the country was under Maoist control.  Even the military accepted this high figure.  They could expand to such an extraordinary extent because they were popular at the time.  This again was because ordinary people were frustrated with all the political parties.  This gave the Maoists political advantages.  This also gave them an organizational advantage.  Many cadre of CPN(UML) and Nepali Congress also joined the Maoists.

2. The negative reason is that Maoists took the organizational line of taking everybody without screening into their ranks.  Even royalists and bad elements were taken into their organizations.  In Kirtipur, where I live, there are many royalists and bad elements in the Maoist organization. Criminals have also entered their organizations.  And back in my village in Kavre district, there are also reactionary elements in the Maoist organizations.  This is harming the Maoists and has decreased the popularity of the Maoists somewhat.  Because when the people see that the bad elements are with the Maoists they lose faith.  For example: Some people don’t want to pay money they owe to the bank, so they join the Maoists to avoid it.  Some bad elements join the Maoists for personal revenge.  The organization has become so big that is beyond the control of the leadership now and then.  The Maoists put an emphasis on being the biggest party in Nepal.  And this is a consequence.  To win the election they also needed a bigger party.  This growth may bring very serious results in the future. It already has repercussions: When the Maoist leadership make a directive about something, now and again the opposite happens.

JPA: What other national repercussions do you foresee from the election result?

Shyam: Smaller parties may now try to join together and create a collective challenge to the Maoists.  The international community of the capitalist camp may create serious problems for the Maoists like they have for Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela.  I expect that their attitude will be the same.  This may suffocate the government.  Even the army and the civil machinery can resist changes that the Maoists try to bring in the political and economical fields.  But if the Maoists mobilize the whole of the people and tactically maintain the seven party unity, this challenge can be met. We can’t of course know for sure if these will be the consequences.

JPA: What will be the effects on the rest of South Asia?

Shyam: In India the Maoist organizations there might be influenced by the events in Nepal. They may also start negotiating and follow the lines of the Nepali.  The moderate left, CPI and CPI(M) are half in the government, and now they have seen what has happened to CPN(UML), so maybe they will try and pressurise a Maoist government in Nepal to come over to their line.  Ties with China may be strengthened and ties with India may get more strained than before.  The U.S. may be more hostile to this government.

JPA: What will be the effect on China?

Shyam: The Chinese government will be pleased when the Maoists come to power.  There will not be much affect on the class struggle in China.  In the last two years the relationship between the Maoists and China has become amicable and the Chinese have invited the Maoists to China.  They are taking more interest in the development of the Maoists in Nepal. China will be a backing power for a Maoist government.  The Indians will also try and win over a Maoist government and transform them in their class interest.  We will have to wait and see what the Maoists will do.  The Maoists are no longer openly calling the Chinese Communist Party “revisionist.”  In order to hold onto the government they must have support from China.  Maoists are also trying to make good relations with India.  Although they have not been able to have good relations with the U.S. government, they are now trying to change this through Jimmy Carter.  They want to make good relations with the U.S. government.  Perhaps if Obama becomes president, then the U.S. position will change toward the Maoists.  The hard stand may be softened.  The Democrats are somewhat different from the Republicans

JPA: Do you think that the Maoists can live up to the high expectations that their supporters have?

Shyam: It is not possible.  They have to maintain the coalition government.  The coalition will also contain Nepali Congress.  NC will try to drag them toward liberalism and “free market” economy and adapt them to status quo.  The future will show how far they will be able to resist this pressure.  If they can maintain the popular support of the people by launching land reform, industrial reform, change in the system of governance and meet the expectations of the people so that they see change in their lives and a lower level of corruption, they will have done well.  They can face these negative factors.

JPA: Prachanda stated yesterday that once the political structure is transformed and a federal republic is in place, that focus must turn to economic transformation.  He promised a huge leap forward economically the next ten years.  Can he deliver?

Shyam: They can if they wish.  Nepal is not a poor country when it comes to resources. The problem is the political system and leadership.  The water resources, land resources, forestry resources, herbal resources, biodiversity resources and so on are enormous.  We also have mineral resources: Gold, copper, iron, coal and maybe even uranium.  We also have oil and gas resources.  If the country can manage its resources it can become rich very soon.  I’d also like to mention that our soil is very fertile, we have three crops in a year.  And of course we have a beautiful country, so we can develop tourism too.  The Maoists should only give expectations to those dreams that can be realized, not those that cannot.  The Maoists have said that they can generate 10,000 MWs in ten years.  That may not be possible, but maybe 5,000 MWs.  They have said that all of Nepal will be electrified in ten years and that they will eradicate illiteracy in 5 years.  It may not be possible in 5 but in ten years.  The main thing is to see progress in the correct direction.

JPA: The intelligentsia had not expected such a wide support among the people for the Maoists.  Will this election change their attitude to the Maoists?

Shyam: Most of the intelligentsia will support the Maoists.  The liberals are now changing their attitude.  It depends on the behaviour of the Maoists.  If the Maoists stop coercion and extortion towards the middle class and ordinary people and they control and screen their cadres better and start taking positive steps, then attitude of the intelligentsia will change.  Of course the hard core reactionaries will not change, but the majority of the middle class intelligentsia will change.  The civil society in Nepal is one of the most active and influential in the world and they may be very positive if Maoists are not pompous, make social transformation and are not corrupt.  The civil society leaders are radical in Nepal and this may be a very positive factor.  They are not all communist, but they are radical.  They will be critical.  If the Maoists can achieve an inclusive state and really do something significant with poverty and bad governance they will come to their help.  But they are against extortion, coercion and extremism.

The majority of the intelligentsia voted for the Maoists now.  Even many that belonged to CPN(UML) voted for the Maoists.  They want change and the peace process to continue.

JPA: The Maoists say that they were compelled to start the People’s War in 1996 as there was massive exclusion and repression, and that the peace deal in 2006 and the period after are a continuation of the same struggle that they have been fighting for since 1990.  Do you think that the ten years of civil war was necessary to achieve the democratically elected Constituent Assembly?

Shyam: My personal view is that they could have struggled peacefully to the last extent. But they did not.  The parliamentary system had only been in function for four years when they left it.  They did not have patience.  If they had exhausted all the options then they would have got more support in the beginning of the People’s War.  I don’t say that People’s War was not needed,  But all the options should have been exhausted.  It might be that People’s War was necessary.  There was a bit of suppression in 1994-95, but just after suppression began, they went to war.  But I do agree that the ten years of war became the determining factor for the holding of the Constituent Assembly elections.

JPA:  It looks like the Madeshi People’s Forum (MJF) is doing well in areas in the south east.  What is your opinion of this organization?  Will it play a positive role in developing the class struggle in Nepal?

Shyam: MJF is the result of the weaknesses in the interim constitution and the peace accord.  The grievances of the Madhesi were not well addressed in these two documents.  Madhesi people rose against this.  Their demand was a federal state and proportional representation of the Madhesi people in the state structure and the CA.  If that provision had been there in the interim constitution and the peace accord then the uprising had not occurred.  If the Maoists [who had raised the same demands] had been firmer on these questions during negotiations then it would not have occurred.  And I believe that it was possible for them to be more firm back then in November 2006.  It was a Maoist mistake and they lost popular support in Madhesh because of this.  After two months of uprisings the parties had to accept the demands.  So in my analysis the success of the MJF is the result of the mistake of the Maoists.

We must be clear that the demands of MJF were just.  But the leadership of MJF is the Madhesi elite.  They are upper class, and this is a contradiction.  The leadership demanded a federal state.  But now they are demanding the opposite, that the whole Terai should be one province.  That means a centralized and unitary governance in the Terai. And the leadership was also against the proportional representation system.  They were also against a more inclusive candidate system.  The MJF were against including the lower Madhesi.  So this is a contradiction now.  The sentiment of the ordinary people is one thing, but the elite will not be helpful in making a radical land reform for example.

JPA: To conclude: Why did we get this election result?

Shyam: In my view there are two major and two minor reasons:

People wanted the peace process to succeed and not be broken.  If the Maoists had become small they would have been compelled to go to war again.  So most of the peace loving people of Nepal voted for the Maoists.  People of all classes voted for Maoists for this reason.

People want change.  Social, political and economic transformation.  They saw that this was not possible through the other parties that had already been tested.  The conservative parties had already been tested.  They wanted something new.  They saw that the agenda for a democratic republic was the agenda of the Maoists. The CA demand was also Maoist and socioeconomic transformation was brought forward by the Maoists.  Therefore they have probably considered that this could only be possible through the Maoist leadership.  So in order to get change they favour Maoist leadership.

The two minor reasons are:

The candidates filed by other parties were old people.  And old people that had ruled Nepal for many years.  People wanted new faces, because people were frustrated with the old leadership.  The candidates of the NC and UML were more than two thirds old people, over forty.  Of the Maoist candidates 52% were under forty.  Most of the youth voted for Maoists. 52% of the voters are young.

The oppressed people of the lower classes were tired of the upper class status quo corrupt government.  They are not heard in society, but through this vote they spoke.

These four factors joined together gave an amazing result!

Johan Petter Andresen is a Norwegian friend of MRZine now in Nepal.

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