The following is an update from an ally of Atlas in Nepal on the situation unfolding in Kathmandu. It is anonymous for safety concerns.
Dear Friends of Liberty,
I am writing to update you on the situation in Nepal. Politically, this must be the worst situation in the last three years. In 2006, radical revolutionary Maoists were brought into the political process through a peace deal. A constitutional assembly election was held as a part of the deal and the Maoists became the largest party (by force, I will add). They formed a government, ran it for nine months and resigned. Since that time they have been kicking and screaming about establishing an “authoritarian people’s regime” in the country. As they stepped down from the government, they have not let the parliament function and there has been no progress toward the making of a constitution.
The new Nepali constitution is due May 28th. On the 29th of May, Nepal will technically be a country without a constitution. There is no chance that the constitution, which has been in the works for two years, will be ready. Political polarization has increased like never before and the Maoists are demanding that the constitution can only be established if they are leading the government. They have made it clear in the last several months that they will establish their “authoritarian people’s regime” at any cost. They have also communicated clearly that they will use their power in the House of Representatives as well as their power in the streets to capture control of the state.
On May Day (the first of the month) they launched their next phase and the biggest ever campaign to take over government. They have made it clear that they will not give up until they achieve their mission. An estimated 1.5 million Maoists cadres from across the country took to the streets to stage a strike in hopes that the Constituent Assembly would resign. The city of Kathmandu came to a standstill. All schools, businesses, public buildings, party venues, open spaces, houses under construction, floors of department stores, and parks in the capital city were shut down and fully occupied by the Maoists. All the workers were threatened to be on the streets. Food and fuel were running out, electricity rationed. They forced households to feed and lodge at least four people every day as their duty in “support of the great revolution.”
Extortion to raise funds for this campaign has been rampant and there are several groups of Maoists cadres coming to each entity (big or small) to demand donations and the minimal ask is USD 100 and can be as big as USD 100,000 depending on the volume of business. (Nepal’s per capita income is USD 400) The whole society looked confused about what would happen in the following days! The state was prepared to take any steps necessary to maintain peace, and gathered about 15,000 forces in the city to resist the 1.5 million fighters in the street.
Fortunately, on the sixth day of the strike at least 20,000 people fought back in a counter-protest calling for end to the Maoist-led strike. The business community, human rights organizations and civil society groups said enough is enough.
After six days, their strike had failed in Kathmandu. But the future is uncertain. There is political deadlock and the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) is declaring that they will put forth a new “people’s constitution” unilaterally. The situation has improved but it’s only temporary. The whole of last week we have been rallying to build up a greater campaign and coalition. I am hoping to have more updates by the end of this week.