President George Papandreou, Vice Presidents, Secretary General Luis Ayala, Comrades and Friends!
It is a great pleasure to be able to attend the twenty-third Congress of the Socialist International at this ancient historic city of Athens – the birthplace of democracy. On behalf of my party Nepali Congress, and on my own behalf, I would like to thank the organizers for arranging this congress.
The theme of this panel discussion “Struggling for democracy to eradicate national conflict: To resolve conflicts and overcome instability” is very well chosen as it embodies the essence of the concerns, hopes and aspirations of the people facing the challenges of living in conflicts and in post-conflict situations.
I would like to preface my speech by quoting Willy Brandt who said “Peace is not everything but without peace everything is nothing”. In Nepal we have learnt this lesson very dearly and 13,000 of my fellow citizens lost their lives in the decade-long conflict. We also lost billions of dollars worth of infrastructure and opportunities for development.
The dream of the Nepali people to live with human dignity and social justice in a democratic state is almost 60 years old. Along with the inception of the Nepali Congress – started Nepal’s rocky path to transition from an oligarchy and authoritarian state towards a social democracy.
Our first brush with democracy was as far back as 1951 when the oligarchy of the Rana-family was overthrown and replaced by a democratic polity. However, this first phase did not last long as the ambitious king of the Shah dynasty took all powers unto himself in a coup d’état in 1960.
Nepal’s second chance at democracy was in 1990 – along with the fall of the Iron Curtain. At that important juncture of world history, the Nepal Congress led a peaceful movement for democracy. The success of the First People’s Movement of 1990 resulted in the establishment of multi-party democracy along with a constitutional monarchy. However, after the infamous and tragic Royal Massacre in 2001 – once the dead king’s brother became the king – it did not take long for democracy to be challenged again. The new king harboured ambitions to become an ‘absolute’ monarch. He took all powers in a coup in February 2005 and imprisoned all political leaders. As the sitting Prime Minister, I was first placed under house-arrest and then imprisoned for a year.
Nepali people were once again the hostages of authoritarian rule. Only now the national scenario was more complicated due to an ongoing insurgency by the CPN-Maoists. However, good sense prevailed and the political parties of Nepal – along with the insurgents – broke down their barriers to work together despite great differences in political ideology. Thus, in December 2005, 8 key political parties of Nepal lead by the Nepali Congress formed an alliance to re-establish democracy and peace in Nepal. In April 2006, after a 19-day long unprecedented nation-wide peaceful people’s movement – the king was forced to hand-over power to the people and let democracy prevail.
The aspiration of the 2006 People’s Movement was for peace, democracy and a republic. As part of consolidating the peace process and realizing the aspirations of the people – elections to the Constituent Assembly was held by the coalition government headed by the President of the Nepali Congress – Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala in April 2008.
The CPN-Maoists emerged as the largest party after the elections. Even though the sanctity of the elections has been widely questioned – our party – the Nepali Congress has decided to accept the results. The main reason for accepting the results of the election has been to preserve and consolidate the peace process and ensure smooth political transition essential for consensual writing of Nepal’s new constitution.
The experience of Nepal has shown that the price for peace is expensive – but nothing compares to the senseless killings of one’s compatriots. We have learnt that peace is a process requiring infinite patience and that the outcomes can not be evaluated in the short-term. We have learnt that drawing insurgents into a peace process is challenging and to keep them engaged requires wisdom, political sagacity and the will to ensure the end goal is still freedom and democracy for every single citizen.
The days ahead are going to be even more challenging for Nepal. Not only must the newly elected Constituent Assembly members write Nepal’s new and historic constitution within a 2 year period – it must also ensure the consolidation of peace and the deepening of democracy and social justice in Nepal.
Along with challenges – Nepal has had some noteworthy successes among which is the 33% representation of women in the Constituent Assembly and the proportional representation of Nepal’s diverse caste, ethnic and regional groups on the basis of their configuration in the last population census of 2001. There has thus been a strong movement towards empowering Nepal’s diverse peoples and making their voices heard. We are hopeful that the representation composition itself will act as a check and balance against reversal to authoritarian rule in any form.
Despite the fact that the CPN-Maoists are poised to lead the next government of Nepal - they are yet to shed off the characteristics of an insurgent movement. Their behaviour still espouses fear in the minds of many. They are yet to understand their new political responsibility and rise up to it. The CPN-Maoists have to internalize the fact that the essence of democracy is a state where rule of law is fully honoured. Their cadres are yet to realize that every citizen – despite political orientation – must enjoy unfettered human rights, liberty and freedom. The reintegration and rehabilitation of CPN-Maoists’ combatants who are now in UN-managed cantonments as part of the peace process, also poses a key challenge to the stability of our nation.
There are other political questions to respond to – including laying the foundations and modalities for establishing a functional federal state. The law and order situation of the southern part of Nepal still poses a problem as a few militant groups are still operating in these areas. We also have to find answers as how to live in harmony despite our diversity.
The heightened aspirations of the people to be able to live in prosperity and have access to equitable opportunities, resources and services has to be met if sustainable peace is to be established in Nepal. Meanwhile even a service, as basic as safe motherhood and neonatal care, remains out of reach for the majority due to scanty resources. Measures to rid our society of gaps in education, poverty and growing youth unemployment have to be scaled up in order to build durable peace and a strong foundation for a prosperous Nepal.
I am hopeful that as a nation we have become wiser – and we will still stand together and be able to proliferate our socialist democratic principles and values during our stride towards building a better Nepal. At this important crossroad of our nation’s history, the Nepali people are thankful to the international community for their support during our struggle for re-establishing democracy and peace.
On behalf of the Nepali Congress and myself, I would like to thank President George Papandreou and Luis Ayala, Secretary General of Socialist International for keeping a close watch on Nepal all through the tough days of re-establishing democracy and for encouraging us in our peace process.
I would also thank Luis Ayala for leading a team of election observers to Nepal during the recent elections.
The watchfulness and support of the Socialist International will be even more important in our day’s ahead to sustain the key elements of our peace process with the CPN-Maoists and our promise to the people of Nepal.