Stewardship by failed actors

Even if Bhattarai quits, Nepal's political puzzle will not be solved

Nepal's politics is becoming too complicated a puzzle to be solved instantly. The current debate and prescriptions from many stakeholders appear too simplistic and short-term. President Ram Baran Yadav has asked caretaker Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai to resign and pave the way for a national unity government. Bhattarai insists other parties must join his cabinet and make him the head of such a government. Alternatively, the discredited and divided political parties must first decide on his successor, and only then will he think of quitting. Bhattarai has also questioned the president's right to remove a PM.

The absence of a full-fledged constitution and a parliament-cum-constituent assembly a government should be accountable to, allows space for the executive or the PM to be dictatorial. Bhattarai and his Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) don't want to give up such an ideal status, and therefore insist on hanging on to power. The president's "constitutional status" and the failure of the other major parties to decide whether to go for a revival of the failed Constituent Assembly (CA) or fresh polls has only strengthened the UCPN-M.

Interestingly, while UCPN-M chief Prachanda has lobbied for the CA's revival, Bhattarai insists on fresh polls, but there are many constitutional and political impediments in choosing either option. The absence of a broader political understanding is at the root of the stalemate.

The president's right and responsibility in a situation — not clearly foreseen by the interim constitution — have triggered intense debate, but on November 9, he gave ample indication to Bhattarai that November 21 should be his last day in office. Bhattarai had recommended elections to the new CA for that day, something the election commission has already ruled out. Moreover, the PM has failed to secure the opposition's support — a precondition set by the president — for a full-fledged budget through ordinance by November 15. What if the president refuses to endorse the budget that Bhattarai is determined to bring out?

The uncertainty about how to get politics back on track will have its own impact on the peace process, political stability and economic prosperity, the objectives set by the Delhi-mediated 12-point agreement signed in November 2005. The spirit of the agreement has collapsed with the failure of the interim constitution and the pulling apart of its components. The Maoists are now accusing President Yadav of trying to turn into a dictator by "openly aligning" with political parties opposed to them.

Recently, the army chief, Gaurav Shumsher Rana, asked the finance minister and Maoist leader, Barshaman Pun, to immediately release Rs 10 billion to the cash-starved Nepal army for staff salaries and training and administrative works, as well as for fulfilling the integration of Maoist combatants. Rana approached the government when Bhattarai was seen doling out huge sums of money arbitrarily to his party supporters. Last week, the cabinet decided to provide Rs 200,000 each to almost 4,000 Maoist combatants that the UN verification team had identified as "not qualified" to be treated as the "Peoples Liberation Army".

In a series of identical decisions over a period of five years, the government has disbursed Rs 1 million each to approximately 7,000 families of Maoist supporters who died in the conflict, Rs 480,000 to each of 19,400 combatants living in UN-monitored cantonments, and Rs 800,000 to over 13,900 combatants who opted to vacate the cantonments and settle for self-employment schemes. Major corruption is suspected in all these processes. The government's refusal or delay to release the amount sought by the army will be viewed as discriminatory, giving the President — also the supreme commander of the army — a chance to intervene.

There are, however, serious doubts about the president's ability to ride over the bigger crisis that looms large, especially because there are many who now believe his office, like the interim constitution and the CA, have ceased to exist. Any new experiment to seek a solution within the rigid framework of the failed interim constitution, under the stewardship of failed actors from the parties and the president, is unlikely to bring any positive or acceptable result. For that, Nepal's parties in general, and the big four in particular, as well as Delhi that initiated the 12-point agreement must first find out where they all went wrong.

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

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