Presidential coup in Nepal

The Spark June 2009
Alastair Reith

 The last time The Spark carried news from Nepal, the story was positive. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) had been elected to government with just under forty percent of the seats (more than the next two parties put together). Its leader Prachanda was Prime Minister. Previous to this, it had waged a decade long People’s War that liberated eighty percent of the countryside and radicalised the workers and peasants of the country in support of revolutionary change. Under the slogan of a new Nepal, the Maoist-led government attempted to bring about land reform, build national industry, empower and improve the lives of workers, and fight against the domination of foreign imperialism, and Indian expansionism. However, this article describes events of a much less positive nature.

Over the past months, the Maoist government has been almost completely unable to advance its revolutionary programme due to the resistance of its coalition partners. At every turn, it found its progressive efforts blocked by the non-revolutionary parties it had formed a government with.


Confrontation and conflict

One of the main areas of conflict was the question of army integration. Under the terms of the peace process the People’s Liberation Army and the Nepalese Army were to be merged. The head of the army, Army Chief of Staff General Rookmangud Katawal, refused to cooperate with this process, and continued the tradition of the army operating as a law unto itself free from civilian control. In several cases, he defied the democratically elected government. In direct violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreements, Katawal oversaw three recruitment drives to the Nepalese Army, all of which were tolerated by the courts. When the PLA carried out a similar recruitment drive in retaliation, it was declared unlawful by the Supreme Court! When the Maoist-led government refused to extend the terms of eight generals who had reached mandatory automatic retirement age, Katawal ignored the Defence Ministry’s orders and reinstated the generals. Katawal also withdrew the army from the National Games, held between branches of the security forces, because of the PLA’s participation – a move obviously designed to provoke the government.

The major struggle however is over Katawal’s opposition to the integration of “politicised” PLA fighters into the regular army. He has stated bluntly that he will not allow army integration to take place.

In April the Maoist-led government formally requested Katawal to provide “clarification” over the illegal army recruitment, the extension of the general’s terms and the boycott of the National Games, as well as his generally insubordinate attitude. He chose not to reply within the 24 hours provided to him, and two weeks later the Cabinet voted to sack him. Katawal refused to accept the letter informing him of this.


Prachanda resigns

However, despite the legitimacy of the government’s action even by capitalist legal standards, President Ram Baran Yadav used his position, which was supposed to be largely ceremonial, to override the sacking and ordered Katawal to remain in his position. President Yadav is from the opposition Nepal Congress Party, chief party of the reactionary feudalist forces in Nepal.

Outraged at this, Prachanda resigned as Prime Minister on the 4th of May, labelling Yadav’s move a “presidential coup.” Prachanda said he “will quit the government rather than remain in power by bowing down to the foreign elements and reactionary forces”. The Maoist government was over. A new Prime Minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal, has been endorsed by a precarious coalition of almost every single party in parliament, but he has so far been unable to name a Cabinet due to internal conflict within this alliance.


What next for Nepal?

The Maoists have not taken these events lying down. They have pledged to wage struggle “in the parliament and in the streets”. Maoist Constituent Assembly members have staged protests in the parliament to prevent it from sitting since the presidential coup. There have been massive protests nation-wide, and there are reports that Maoist cadre are again taking an increasingly hostile approach to the cadre of the feudalist parties.

The presidential coup, the refusal of the military to submit to civilian control and the conniving of the reactionary parties all threaten to see the dream of a New Nepal die before it was ever truly realised. But the Maoists and the working masses remain committed to this goal, they remain committed to revolution. There are also reports that the Maoists have reactivated the parallel government, People’s Committees and People’s Courts that they operated during the war.

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