Originally Published 2011-08-19 00:00:00 Published on Aug 19, 2011
As the largest party in the Nepal Constituent Assembly, it is the responsibility of the Maoist party to furnish a clear roadmap for the peace process, acceptable to all the political players. And much of the onus lies on Prachanda.
Nepal again in political crisis
After failing to deliver on the peace process and constitution making, Nepal's Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal resigned on August 14 -- after nearly seven months in office.

Although the major political parties have engaged in heavy negotiations since Khanal's resignation, the possibility of a consensus government is still very elusive. While UCPN (Maoists) and Nepali Congress have staked claim over the leadership of the next government, no consensus has emerged on key issues confronting the peace process, mainly the integration of former Maoist rebels.

While letting Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' to retain the position of the parliamentary party leader, the Maoists have named vice-chairman Baburam Bhattarai as the party's candidate to lead the government. The second largest party in the legislative parliament, the Nepali Congress has, after a week of internal debate, proposed senior leader Sher Bahadur Deuba's name to lead a national government. It has, however, said that the party's parliamentary leader Ram Chandra Poudel will remain the party's candidate in case of formation of a majority government. It must be reiterated here that Poudel and Prachanda fought 17 rounds of elections in the parliament last year when the then PM Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned. On the other hand, the CPN-UML, which led two successive governments in the last 23 months, is yet to make its position clear on the future government.

The much-needed political consensus among the major players will be key in taking the peace process to a logical conclusion and to draft a new constitution. Even in case a Bhattarai-led national government comes into force in Nepal, the Prachanda faction within the Maoist party can play a spoil sport to derail the peace process. Bhattarai will also have to deal with the hardliners inside his party, led by senior vice-chairman Mohan Baidya, who have demanded bulk integration of Maoist combatants into the security forces and have proposed federalism on the basis of ethnicity. The hardline position has already been rejected by both the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML parties. Therefore, Bhattarai will face a challenge of striking the middle path by encompassing all varying opposition views. In such a scenario, success of a Bhattarai led coalition will be highly doubtful.

Much will also depend on the power-sharing arrangement between the political parties, mainly the Maoist and Nepali Congress. It is yet to be seen how much the Maoists concede to the demands of the Nepali Congress. The NC has strongly voiced for the completion of integration before the Constitution writing, return of the seized properties by the Maoists and the disarming of the Maoist combatants completely. The civil society and media in Nepal have criticised the two parties for engaging in power struggle rather than working in the national interest of the country. The parties have only three days in hand to strike a deal before they meet the August 21 deadline given by the President.

The Maoist party is currently engaged in the meetings of the party's top office bearers to chart out a strategy for a Maoist-led consensus government and discuss ways to settle the contentious issues of the peace process. An internal agreement among the Maoist leaders will be a decisive factor in concluding the peace process. No government, either led by Bhattarai or Deuba, will be able to succeed without consensus on the key issues of peace process which has held up the entire process for the last four years. As the largest party in the Constituent Assembly, it is the responsibility of the Maoist party to furnish a clear roadmap for the peace process, acceptable to all the political players. Much of the onus lies on Prachanda for being the leader of the largest party. Even if this means handing over the leadership of the next government to the chairman, the party must do so. It should be remembered that Prachanda had very reluctantly given in to the party's decision to propose Bhattarai's name as the prime ministerial candidate. A Bhattarai-led government will become a victim of foul-play from within the Maoist party itself for this reason.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

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