Originally Published 2012-05-04 00:00:00 Published on May 04, 2012
The ministers in Baburam Bhattarai cabinet resigned en masse just before midnight on May 3 to pave the way for the formation of a new national consensus government.
Midnight deal in Nepal
The ministers in Baburam Bhattarai cabinet resigned en masse just before midnight on May 3 to pave the way for the formation of a new national consensus government.

As per the power sharing agreement of 1 November last year, a new national unity government would be in place under the leadership of Nepali Congress (NC) before the promulgation of the constitution on May 27. In the spirit of the November Agreement, the parties signed a new five-point agreement on Thursday night just before dissolving the cabinet. As per the new arrangement, a consensus government under Bhattarai will be put in place within two days but a new unity government would be formed under NC before May 27.

The new agreement has cleared the air of mistrust among the major parties. While the largest party led government would now conclude the peace process and settle major disputes on constitution writing, a NC government would promulgate the new statute. This is indeed the best power sharing arrangement that could have emerged in Nepal at the moment.

The NC, however, lacks good leadership. While party President Sushil Koirala does not command much credibility, there is fierce rivalry between senior leaders Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel.

Koirala, who was elected to the post of party President in September 2010 after the death of G P Koirala, lost the 2008 Constituent Assembly (CA) elections coming third behind the candidates of the Madeshi People’s Rights Forum and the CPN (Maoist). Besides his family background that helped him to rise to the top position in the party, he is considered a weak leader.

Deuba is the second senior most leader of NC and has served as a PM three times -- from 1995 to 1997, 2001 to 2002, and June 2004 until February 1, 2005. A coup d’etat by King Gyanendra removed Deuba in October 2002. After two other governments and due to protest for his restoration, Gyanendra restored Deuba to the position of PM in 2004. He was then removed on February 1, 2005 by King Gyanendra, who dissolved the government for three years and seized direct power. Deuba was also sentenced to two years in prison in July 2005 under corruption charges, but was subsequently released in February 2006, after the anti-corruption body that sentenced him was outlawed.

Although Deuba won from both Dadeldhura and Kanchanpur-4 constituencies in the CA polls, in the subsequent vote for Prime Minister in 2008, Deuba was defeated by Maoist chairman Prachanda. Although now nominated as the NC candidate for a consensus government, Deuba has lost support within the party with younger leaders terming him "weak and unpredictable."

Poudel is the Chief Party Secretary and the current parliamentary party leader of NC. He fought 17 rounds of votes with former PM Jhalanath Khanal. He also lost to Dr Baburam Bhattarai on August 28, 2011 election in the legislature parliament for the post of PM.

But for now the NC seems to be contended for it has got what it wanted for long. The NC top leaders have somehow harboured a feeling of pride in being at the helm of affairs during historic moments in Nepali polity. Of late, the NC leaders bolster that it was under their leadership that the country was declared a republic and it was NC-led government that held the historic CA polls. So to the satisfaction of many party bosses, the new deal has proved self-aggrandising.

The fresh deal is likely to give the constitution making process the much-needed impetus. The process had hit snag owing to differences among the parties on national unity government. Having settled that, PM Bhattarai now needs to resolve all disputes concerning federal structure of the new nation. The issue of ethnic federalism has already sparked violence in the country with few political outfits showing uncompromising positions. Chairman Prachanda has, however, said that state restructuring will be on the basis of identity and economic viability.

The five-point agreement states that all issues related to constitution making such as state restructuring and system of governance will be resolved through consensus "within three days." The leaders have vowed that a new constitution will be promulgated before May 27. A NC-led national consensus government will be formed following the resignation of the prime minister and prior to the promulgation of the new constitution. This government will hold general elections within one year.

The leaders also reiterated that all the remaining tasks of the peace process will be completed without delay and that the meetings of top leaders of the political parties will be held on a regular basis in a bid "to expedite the constitution drafting process."

Bhattarai’s government was functioning amid intense pressure from the opposition since past two weeks. Demanding Bhattarai’s resignation, the NC and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) threatened to table a no trust motion against the Bhattarai government in the Parliament if he did not quit on his own. Senior Communist leader K P Oli and Narayan Khadka of the NC, among others, vehemently opposed continuation of Bhattarai government. Bhattarai faced a revolt from within his own party. A section of the party owing allegiance to senior vice-chairman Mohan Baidhya Kiran threatened to support the no-trust motion to oust Bhattarai.

However, it is futile to engage in unhealthy power games at a time when the country has seen some major progress in the peace process in the last one month. Credit must be given to Bhattarai for taking the bold decision to send the Nepal Army into the Maoist cantonments in April and for engaging all stakeholders on issues of constitution drafting. It was only logical that his government be converted into a consensus one for smooth delivery of a new constitution after the integration process entered an irreversible phase. The two armies have been merged and integration of 3000 combatants is to be completed within a week.

The leaders have vouched that all contentious issues will be resolved within three days. But they have also added vaguely that the issues on which agreement is not reached now "will be resolved as per the procedures." Any further delay or postponing issues like federalism will evoke another wave of violence in the country. It has to be addressed now.

Akanshya Shah is Associate Fellow, ORF

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