A Case of Too Many Prime Ministers
As 1st May approaches, Nepal seems to be on the brink of another major crisis. The public agitation announced by the Unified CPN M or the Maoists to commence the program for national unity government is ominous for it signifies that the former guerrillas have abrogated the choice of change through parliament and now want their old formula of raising the ante from the streets. This is happening when the Constitution drafting process continues to be delayed and the 28 May deadline is likely to come and go. With the three main parties, the Unified CPN M, the Nepal Congress and the CPN UML at logger heads over who should head the government, Nepal seems to be a case of too many aspirants for the post of Prime Minister.
The power struggle seems to have intensified with the death of towering personality of Nepali politics and the supreme commander of people's movement-2, Nepali Congress (NC) president Girija Prasad Koirala on 20 March. The death of Mr. Koirala has come at a wrong time for Nepal in the midst of drafting a new constitution with political instability as the parties are not willing to accept reconciliation. He was one personality who could have brought Nepalese political parties together by the force of his personality and sheer weight of his political influence.
Koirala had served as prime minister of Nepal for five times and his latest contribution to national politics was restoration of peace by dragging armed insurgent Maoist into the political mainstream. He led the coalition government that included Maoists, and successfully held the first Constituent Assembly elections, which has been mandated to write new constitution within May 28. How Nepali politics shapes up after his death remains to be seen, in all probability the differences are likely to widen and also the Nepal Congress one of the main political parties may weaken for lack of a grass roots and mercurial leader as Mr. Koirala.
Mr. Koirala himself had been charged of attempting to put his daughter as the head of his party the Nepal Congress but now his nephew is the acting president Mr. Sushil Koirala. There is also an intense power struggle in the Nepal Congress that is emerging as NC senior leader Sher Bahadur Deuba chairman of the erstwhile Nepali Congress (Democratic) which broke away with Nepali Congress and unified with it a few years ago is likely to raise the flag of revolt against Mr. Sushil. NC has already decided to transform its leadership model from the presidential system to a multi-post leadership system. Party leaders and cadres have urged the leaders to work in a consensus. But will these parleys produce effective results remains to be seen with a tradition of squabbling the Nepal political space and particularly the Nepal Congress is now even more open for intrigues.
The jockeying for power in Kathmandu continues as the main opposition party Unified CPN (Maoist) intensified bilateral discussions with different parties to get their support against the M K Nepal led coalition government. Maoist leaders met Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) leaders to find an alternative to the current coalition. MJF is already in the streets against the Madhav Kumar Nepal-led government for failing to uphold rule of law and curb increasing criminal activities. The Maoist-MJF meeting was attended by MJF leaders Upendra Yadav and Jay Prakash Prasad Gupta and Maoist leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Mohan Baidya and Ram Bahadur Thapa.
In another meeting with Maoist leaders, the UML leaders demanded transforming UCPN (Maoist) into a civilian party, end of Para-military structure of the Young Communist League (YCL) and return of all the properties seized during the insurgency period as conditions to support a Maoist-led government. On the other hand the Prime Minister Mr. M K Nepal held talks with leaders of the smaller parties the Nepal Majdoor Kishan Party, Nepal Sadbhawana Party (Anandi Devi), Samajbadi Party, Chure Bhawar Ekta Samaj, Nepal Loktantrik Samajbadi Dal, Sanghiya Loktantrik Rastriya Manch and Rastriya Janamorcha for survival.
The two main political parties - UCPN (Maoist) and Nepali Congress staked claim for the leadership of the three-party high-level political mechanism which was earlier headed by late NC president Girija Prasad Koirala. In their first bilateral meeting after the death of Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala, top leaders of the Unified CPN (Maoist) and the Nepal Congress tried to narrow down their differences, discussing what they called a 'package solution' on contentious issues. NC leaders concluded that acting president Sushil Koirala would take over the leadership of HLPM, which has Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and UML chairman Jhala Nath Khanal as members. Meanwhile, Maoist vice chairman Mohan Baidya has said the HLPM would be able to fulfill its mandate only if it is led by his party.
Continued political instability impacting governance in the country including economy and law and order has provided the former Nepal monarch King Gyanendra an opportunity to indicate to the people that he was available and was in the wings. However political parties are unlikely to take this kindly and this was evident with the statements coming from all sides condemning the former monarch, something that possibly all the parties are in agreement with.
The long spell of political instability which has followed a period of insurgent violence has resulted in businessmen in Nepal losing confidence and the country’s economy in a crisis. Due to its long stint with monarchy and feudalism, Nepal has one of the most uneven distributions of resources and wealth in the Asia. This led to the birth of counter movements such as Maoism. Security concerns relating to the Maoist conflict and counter insurgency initiatives have led to a decrease in tourism, a key source of foreign exchange. Even after the Maoists joined electoral democracy, there has been no progress primarily because of political uncertainty. Thus while Nepal has considerable scope for exploiting its potential in hydropower and tourism sectors this has remained untapped.
Now unless the Maoists either call off their street led agitation to take power in the country or the parties agree for a peaceful resolution of the ongoing impasse over Constitution drafting, another long period of instability is seen ahead in Nepal.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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