Originally Published 2013-02-22 00:00:00 Published on Feb 22, 2013
As Nepal sees rising tensions on the political front, New Delhi cannot design temporary solutions which can hardly bring lasting peace in the country.
Nepal: Murky road to polls
Although the major political parties in Nepal have come close to striking a deal on holding elections in the country, there is yet no clarity on their proposed Chief Justice led government. Soon after the end of United CPN (Maoist) General Convention last week, Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda had proposed that a neutral government under the incumbent CJ Khil Raj Regmi be formed to conduct election to the Constituent Assembly (CA). It came as a political compromise to end the current impasse and to go for fresh mandate after the CA, which was also acting as the Legislature Parliament, was dissolved on May 28, 2012, without delivering a new constitution. But the proposal has faced severe roadblocks and the opposition is totally divided over it. While the Nepali Congress has said that the CJ must resign from his post to occupy the highest executive position, the UML is divided on it. While UML Chairman Jhalanath Khanal has supported the proposal, other senior leaders like Madhav Kumar Nepal are against it. Nepal-led faction has called the proposal an attempt to politicise the judiciary. The legal experts too are divided on the proposal. The Nepal Bar Association has claimed that no sitting CJ can occupy executive post as that would infringe on the principle of separation of powers. Many legal experts have said that such a move would be against the spirit of the 2007 Constitution. However, many others have supported Prachanda's proposal by invoking the doctrine of necessity given the impasse facing the country. There is little doubt that a fresh election is required to end the present political turmoil and write a new constitution. But the most important question is whether a CJ-led government is the right political option in a country polarised along ethnic lines and when the political parties at loggerheads with each other on crucial issues of national importance, including the issue of state restructuring. The CJ himself has rightly pointed out that the environment is "not favourable" to hold elections by June 5. There is a huge group in Nepal which does not desire a CJ-led government. While the big four parties - United CPN (Maoist), NC, CPN-UML and the Madhesi Morcha - are busy at endless parleys to form the CJ-led election government, the other smaller parties are being totally marginalised. The nationwide strike called by the CPN (Maoist), which is a breakaway faction of the hardliners led by Mohan Baidhya Kiran, on February 19 showed the real strength of the smaller factions to cause trouble. If the majority of the people felt that the big political parties were headed in the right direction, then the people should have defied the banda. Instead, the entire country from west to east was shut down with violence erupting at major cities. Can Prachanda then impose a "neutral" government and assure that elections would be held? It is anyone's guess that the CPN (Maoist) can create situation to sabotage the planned polls. There are other factions too like the one headed by Upendra Yadav that is not happy with the present situation. They need to be taken on board. The political instability has already given the pro-royalist forces enough time to regroup and strengthen. The Hindu right-wing will too create unfavourable atmosphere for the polls. They have been demanding referendum on the issue of Monarchy vs. Republicanism and Hindu vs. secular identity for Nepal. Such a referendum is mandated by the 2007 Interim Constitution. The other factor is the issue of state restructuring over which the CA was dissolved last year. There is yet no concrete time-bound agreement on the number of provinces and delineation of the proposed provinces in the new republic. The issue is a contentious one and there is no political consensus. It could be a deal breaker yet again in absence of clear political understanding. People have lost count of the number of agreements signed between the political actors to agree on the number of provinces, but nothing has come out of all these. At a time when the political parties are discredited for their inability to forge consensus on the larger interest of the country, the big four are attempting to prove this to the public and the international community at large. There is no option to political settlement in Nepal, like the one drawn in 2005-06. If one is to look at the political landscape of Nepal and make logical predictions, then it seems that in the next election, the Maoist will still remain the largest political force but with reduced majority. There may be some gain for the NC but not significantly and there could be no change in the UML and Madhesi positions vis-a-vis the number of seats. Thus coalition politics will stay, which will inevitably invite compromises and adjustments. If political actors come on a common platform with open minds and a view to resolve their differences, a consensus can still be reached. It has happened in the past and there is no reason why it cannot happen again. If peace and stability is in the agenda of all the parties, compromises can be reached. Prachanda must take a lead on this. As Nepal sees rising tensions on the political front, New Delhi cannot design temporary solutions which can hardly bring lasting peace in the country. After the Indian envoy to Nepal Jayant's Prasad's recent meeting with President Ram Baran Yadav, it became amply clear that New Delhi is wholly behind the proposal to elect a CJ-led government. The CPN-Maoist has termed the proposal "India sponsored" and even NC President Sushil Koirala has said that he is under tremendous "national and international" pressure. The moot question is can the decision-makers in New Delhi afford to follow a policy of alienating particular parties and expect a correct outcome? It has thrown its weight behind the Maoist-Madhesi coalition at present and expects to bring the janajatis on board. This process will alienate NC and UML and suppress dissenting voices. It was similar position taken by New Delhi in 2008-9. India then embraced the democratic forces led by the NC and the Maoists felt isolated in the process. It did not work then and it would not now. The emphasis must be on bringing all parties on board.
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