Nepal’s political show must go on (and on)

One shouldn’t watch the markets when deciding whether something of political significance is going to happen, but a decrease in the Nepali rupees’ value by 18% is hard to miss.

The Nepali government has been managing to delay the country’s promised constitution for years. It all started so well; a violent civil war lasting eight years ended in peaceful negotiations that led to peaceful protests and a (fairly) peaceful end to the rule of an all-powerful king.

The party leaders got together with the revolutionary Maoists and agreed a fairly nondescript interim constitution while they struggled to make a better one. They set up a constituent assembly to write a new constitution and managed to get 30 per cent women involved too.

Things were going so well. The fact that they unrealistically promised a new constitution in a couple of years, even though they knew the South Africans took close to a decade, could be ignored as good old enthusiasm. Similarly, the idea that a revolutionary Maoist party having just put down their guns could hop into bed with a fairly conservation ‘communist’ party and a congress party modelled on India’s was for the international community, an acceptable leap of faith.

Today however, with just days to go, the Nepali people are finally saying they’ve had enough. On an unprecedented scale. Six years after the peace process was complete, the Supreme Court has said enough is enough, the people have said enough is enough, and the international community? Well, they’ve voted in dollars.

Now Nepali historians know that it’s not too late and that Nepali constitutions have a habit of being pulled out of hat, usually in the dead of the night by a group of old men perched under a candle (all the electricity has run out over six years of stagnation).

Just to put such historians off the scent, the political parties have also put a bill before parliament to extend their negotiations by three months, even though the Supreme Court reiterated the people’s mind: please for god’s sake, no more.

But there are also other more violent protests. The question of whether to go for ethnic-based federal units or ones that may actually succeed is one of the last problems on the table. Nepal is made up of lots of jats (come on 21st century: not castes, which is Portuguese for wine grapes) and some of their leaders want power, regardless of the bloodshed. They have a good point too, particularly after suffering centuries of nose-cutting, shit-smearing, and other forms of discriminatory practices.

Another question for the parties, who are right now huddled around that candle, is whether to go presidential or prime-ministerial. Those to the right want to hang on to the British system with all its pomp, while to the left everyone wants unaccountable and perhaps unstoppable power. It’s likely not to go the way of the Anglophiles.

Then of course, there are the markets, but who cares about them? In the midst of all this political intrigue, let’s not think about economics and some of the poorest people on the planet.

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