Next Door Nepal: United they need to stand
Post-election settlement in Nepal is moving forward at a snail’s pace, mainly because of the lack of clarity in the constitution. The absolute majority won by the Left Alliance comprising the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre raised the hope of political stability in the country. However, personal and party interests involving actors and political forces have worked against any settlement.
Although the Left Alliance has come to an agreement on power-sharing in six of the seven provinces — the UML will lead in four and the Maoists in two — with 70:30 share in the government, the two have not been able to strike a deal regarding government formation at the Centre. A stumbling block is the proposed merger of the two parties, a decision taken by leaders of the two parties before the elections. While Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal has agreed to accept UML chief K P Oli as the prime minister, Oli and his party are yet to agree to Dahal’s precondition that he be allowed to head the unified party.
The disunity is not limited to the Left Alliance. A face-off involving the Nepali Congress and its allies on the one hand and the Hindu nationalist forces on the other seems in the offing. The latter have also rejected the present constitution.
President Bidhya Devi Bhandari is set to summon the newly-constituted parliament within a month. The new government is expected to be formed a week after that. The issues and differences among the various parties regarding the constitution will have to be amicably settled before these processes begin.
Last week, the former king, Gyanendra Shah, made an unusual comment before his supporters and the media at the Tribhuvan International Airport prior to his departure to Puri. “Yes, the leaves and branches may have fallen, but I will make every effort to save the roots,” he said. He was clearly implying that though the constitution declares the country a secular republic, he has not given up on efforts to revive the Hindu kingdom. The cause he espouses increasingly has takers among people who are fed up by the rising corruption and poor governance by the major parties. There is enough traction now in the Hindu cause that it will need be listened to when a political deal is negotiated. Excluding this section from the power structure could make the constitution’s future uncertain.
As political uncertainty looms, the army is assuming a visibly pro-active role. The army chief, Rajendra Chhetri, has hosted at least five army chiefs — of Myanmar, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom and India — besides the US Pacific region’s four-star general in the past two months. He has also been consulting his predecessors and others on the role of the army should the constitution fail to establish a secular democratic order. The chief of the Indian Army, General Bipin Rawat, who is also an honorary general of the Nepal Army, is being invited to be the special guest on the Nepal Army Day, which is celebrated every year on Mahashivaratri day. Interestingly, it appears that the defence and foreign ministries are not involved in planning these visits.
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s day-long visit two weeks ago continues to fuel intense debate and speculation. She had termed it a goodwill visit. In fact, she did make efforts to mend fences with the prime minister in waiting, Oli. However, a section in the CPN-UML believes that she was in Kathmandu to push Dahal’s claims to lead a united Communist Party of Nepal. Such a perception will surely have some impact on the merger talks. There are compelling reasons to take Swaraj’s outreach to Nepali leaders at face value. From government agencies affiliated with the Indian embassy to the ever-growing RSS network here, many had wrongly concluded that the Nepali Congress was set for another term in office.
For now, Oli looks set to become the prime minister in a few weeks, with or without the merger of the two communist parties. However, the Maoists may limit their role in the government to supporting it from the outside if Dahal’s demand for the unified party’s leadership is not met. That will certainly hamper the implementation of the constitution. In the coming days, the actors aspiring to assume office would be forced to recognise that power will need to be shared among all the forces to achieve political stability, which has eluded Nepal for over a decade.