Trip Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
to Nepal, Nov. 20-24, 2007
27 November 2007
The Carter Center has had long-term observers in Nepal since last February, preparing for elections in June and then in November, both postponed. Since the election scheduled for November 22 was cancelled, I had kept these days open on my calendar. I was able to respond to requests by Prime Minister Koirala, Maoist leader Prachanda, and the leader of the Communist Party Madhav Kumar Nepal for me to return and explore possibilities for reconciliation among the disputing factions. After arriving in Kathmandu, I received an update report at the airport on the latest parliamentary maneuvers from UML Party leader M. K. Nepal, who was on the way to Iran for an international meeting. He professes to be a mediator between the Maoists and other leaders, a claim strongly rejected by the Prime Minister.
After being briefed by former ambassador Peter Burleigh and our team, we had supper with UNMIN administrator Ian Martin. He gave a report on the result of the screening process to determine who among the Maoists in the cantonments were qualified to remain. This process should be completed by December 15. There is still disagreement over the exact number of qualified individuals in the camps, with young Maoist leaders reporting to me that about 21,000 of the original 31,000 were eligible to remain. (UNMIN's current projection is, that accounting for departures from the camps and those who will be deemed ineligible, the final figure is likely to be fewer than 20,000.) Little has been done to improve conditions in the camps and only four months of the twelve promised payments of 3,000 rupees ($47)/month have been made.
I was also informed on arrival that I would be addressing the Nepali parliament on Friday and spent some time early Thursday preparing my remarks. During the morning we met with U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell, Prime Minister Koirala, Indian Ambasador Mukherjee, British Ambassador Hall, and had a briefing from Carter Center long-term observers, who have continued to travel throughout the nation. Of the 13 employed for the election, only three could be retained because of budget restraints, but several have continued to work on their own time. They reported abominable conditions in the Terai region along the Indian border, with minimal police presence, rampant crime, and an absence of electricity, sanitation, and school teachers. Many local officials are abandoning their positions because of threats to their security. There are charges back and forth about whether the Nepalis or incoming Indians are primarily responsible for the criminal activities.
It was disappointing to me that U.S. policy does not allow our new ambassador to meet with the Maoists, but she was a gracious hostess for a Thanksgiving meal with other Americans at the embassy residence. We also met with the national election commissioners (who have done a superb job), representatives of the Madhesis who live in the Terai, indigenous nationalities, top Maoist leaders Prachanda and Bhattarai, and then three young deputy commanders of the Maoists' Peoples' Liberation Army, who call themselves Pasang, Baldev, and Ananta. I condemned them strongly for continuing acts of violence and intimidation, which are damaging the Maoists' reputation and political support. They were an effervescent and carefree trio, but listened carefully. (The fourth commander is in New York at the U.N.)
Prime Minister Koirala was much more forceful and outspoken than in my several previous meetings, and took a very firm position regarding the remaining two major issues regarding elections: the time of declaring a republic and the level of proportional representation as a result of the voting results. He had been surprised and angered by the recent unexpected majority vote in the parliament in favor of the Maoist position on both questions: early declaration of an end to the monarchy and 100 percent proportional representation, which is what all the marginalized groups prefer. He threatened to go ahead with an election on April 15, with or without an agreement with the Maoists (this threat was disavowed by all of his Nepali Congress associates).
It was obvious from the Indian ambassador that he represents the most influential country in Nepal. He was very eloquent, surprisingly moderate, and helpful in sharing his opinions with us. He insisted strongly that the many terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement should be implemented along with plans for another election. I assured him I would promote both equally.
The election commission members made it plain that they will be ready, once again, to have a good electoral process, even as early as April 15.
The marginalized groups feel betrayed by the government, which has defaulted on almost all promises previously made to them, with much fanfare. "Proportional representation" seats must include 50 percent women, 31 percent Madhesi, 13 percent Dalits (untouchables), and 38 percent Janajatis (indigenous), with some representing more than one category (such as a Dalit woman). They know that a high percentage of proportional representation is best for their people, but admit that strict political party discipline and the ancient caste system with subservience to dominant Brahmins prevent their representatives in parliament from straying from the party line.
Army Chief of Staff Katawal seems still to be close to the king, but pledged to accept direction from Koirala (or his "proper" successor) and to keep the army out of politics. He chafes under his troops being still confined to barracks and has no intention of admitting Maoists into the army in any substantive numbers.
I collected my best impressions from our staff and the many consultations and made a speech to the parliament, followed by a half dozen questions. Subsequently, we arranged to have the key negotiators from the three major parties meet with me privately, and I explored all possibilities for compromise proposals. It was obvious that they were not close to resolving the key issues, and lacked any mediation influence.
I met again Friday night with the Maoist leaders, who seemed somewhat flexible. They had had a forceful session with the Young Communist League that day, and claimed that a positive announcement re improper YCL activities would be made the following evening. Saturday morning I approved a press statement and decided to write my own personal proposal on a possible resolution of the remaining unresolved issues. I shared it with the Prime Minister and the staff will deliver it to other key players.
COMPROMISE PROPOSAL FOR NEPAL:
After having met with as many leaders as possible, it is obvious that serious obstacles remain to a successful resolution of the present debate that can lead to a Constituent Assembly and a national constitution. There is considerable distrust among the parties, with some believing that the Nepali Congress party is excessively interested in preserving its majority position and others doubting the willingness of the Maoists to go to elections.
Realizing that a final agreement will have to be made by consensus of the parliamentarians, I would like to make a proposal that might be modified through further discussions:
MONARCHY TO A REPUBLIC:
The interim parliament can declare with an overwhelming vote that a republic is created in Nepal, this change to be automatically effective, to be confirmed by a simple majority of the newly elected members of the Constituent Assembly as their first order of business when the Assembly convenes. This will be compatible with existing legalities and will be a strong incentive for all political parties to consummate a successful election and end the monarchy.
Subject to future changes under a new constitution that will shape a permanent government, the present stalemate can be ended by allotting 70 percent of the constituent assembly seats by proportional representation and 30 percent by "first past the post." In addition, eight seats can be allotted to each of the three major political parties and one each to the minor parties.
A time-limited round-table discussion on any final agreement should include representatives of the marginalized groups, since they will be deeply affected by the decision.
It is crucial that previous agreements be implemented vigorously, since they are integrally related to the building of adequate trust and confidence necessary for future relations. These should include:
- Cantonment payments, living conditions, and discharge of minors and other unauthorized persons;
- Land return, aided by the establishment of a blue-ribbon land commission;
- Cessation of Maoist and YCL violence and intimidation;
- Status of disappeared people;
- Compensation of war victims;
- Implementation of agreements with Madhesis and Janajatis;
- Security sector reform and integration of the PLA;
- Increased support and supervision of police in the Terai and in other regions where law and order is threatened; and
- Keeping the public fully informed about progress on all these issues.
Before leaving Saturday, I met with Ian Martin, Ambassador Powell, and Prime Minister Koirala, gave them copies of my proposal, and had a press conference. I hope an agreement can be reached and another election scheduled for April, the last month of the Nepali calendar year.