By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
Shyam Saran, former Ambassador to Nepal and Special envoy of the Indian Prime Minister is in Kathmandu today meeting the leaders of various political parties in an effort to find a solution to the current political stalemate created by three unsuccessful elections to the post of Prime Minister.
In the third round of elections that took place on 2nd of August, the Maoist candidate Dahal obtained 259 votes against 124 votes polled by Paudel of Nepali Congress. Dahal obtained 17 more votes than in the previous one and was yet short of a simple majority. Five members of Peasants and Workers party and 12 members of the Upendra faction of the MJF also voted for the Maoist candidate this time. The next date for election has been fixed for 6th of August and it is unlikely to yield any successful result unless there is some last minute change of mind of either the UML or the MJF who have abstained from voting so far.
Shyam Saran met Dahal, the chairman of the UCPN ( Maoist) along with other senior leaders in the morning. The Maoists pointed out that only the installation of a consensus government led by them will pave the way for a solution to the current problems.
Shyam Saran also met Sushil Koirala, the interim President of the Nepali Congress and will soon be meeting Jhalanath Khanal, chairman of the UML. It is said that he stressed for a political consensus and India’s willingness to see political stability in Nepal with “due progress in the ongoing peace process and the constitution making drafting task.”
Reports from Kathmandu indicate that India is now veering towards the view that only a consensus government could help in moving forward with the twin tasks of integration and constitution making. If true, this will be a change in the policy of India.
A consensus government cannot be made in Nepal unless the Maoists are allowed to lead or accommodated in the new set up. A Nepali Congress led majority government cannot fulfil the task however good the party or its leader may be. The cooperation of the Maoists is necessary for completing the two unfinished tasks faced by the country. While Shyam Saran will find it difficult to persuade the Nepali Congress to withdraw from the contest, the combined MJF is only waiting to be convinced by him to vote for either of the two contenders!
However, none of the non Maoist parties are willing to accept a government led by the Maoists right now. Minister for Peace & Reconstruction had clearly said today that it will not be acceptable unless the Maoists combatants are integrated, YCL dissolved, properties seized during the conflict returned to rightful owners and past agreements implemented.
There are two proposals more or less similar that have been proposed on the same day and both deserve a careful examination.
Ram Karki, a Politburo member of the Maoists from the east, said on 3rd August that both Dahal and Paudel should withdraw from the contest. If a consensus cannot be forged under Dahal’s leadership, the Maoist party is ready to forward the name of its Vice Chairman Baburam Bhattarai. It does not look that Karki got the clearance of his party before making this statement.
Bhattarai himself had said earlier on 27th July that if formation of a consensus government fails an alternative will be sought. He had earlier said that the parliamentary regulations could be amended to make way for a national consensus government. Baburam’s statement was not to the liking of the Maoist leadership then.
Jhalanath Khanal suggested on the same day (3rd August) that both the Nepali Congress and the UCPN (Maoist) should withdraw from the contest and chart a new course for a consensus government that could include an amendment to the parliamentary regulations. Contentious issues like integration/rehabilitation, return of seized property and state restructuring should be settled first before a consensus government is formed.
This appeared to be a sensible proposal, but was rejected outright by the Maoists. The Nepali Congress also did not agree with his proposals.
Only two viable options appear to be available. One- a consensus government led by Maoists but not by Dahal or a consensus government led by Khanal with the support of the Maoists. In the former case there will be internal problems in the party of the UCPN (Maoist) and in the latter case the unity of UML will be affected. It is a difficult choice.
Another serious situation is developing over fresh recruitment in the Nepalese Army that is being planned by the government and rightly the UNMIN has already shown its concerns.
On 27th July, the Supreme Court quashed the writ filed against recruitment initiated by the Army over filling up of the technical posts. The Court said that the issue is one that should be resolved by the Joint Monitoring Committee set up specifically for the purpose and that the court need not intervene.
Following the verdict, the Nepal Army is taking steps to fill up vacancies of 3464 personnel in the infantry. The contention of the Army and the defence Ministry is that it is only filling up the vacancies that have occurred since signing of the accord and the total strength is well within the ceiling of 95,000- a number that was the strength of the army at the time of signing of the Peace Accord.
The Maoists have been protesting over the recruitment as a clear violation of the Accord. Now they have declared that they will also be recruiting to fill up the vacancies in the PLA. Their contention is that their present strength is only 19,000 against the strength of 31000 they had at the time of peace accord. The deputy Commander of PLA Chandra Prakash Khanal told a Press Conference that they have called for applications from all Nepalese who are liberal, patriotic and above 18 years of age.
UNMIN has appealed to the Government and the Maoists to respect the past agreements and act in good faith on the implementation of Agreement on Monitoring of Arms and Armies (AMMAA) that is mandated to be monitored by UNMIN.
The Government and Nepal’s Army are taking umbrage under the wording given in Article 5.1.2 of the Agreement which says that “both sides shall not recruit additional military forces . . . ”. That would mean that vacancies that arise since signing of the Acord could be filled up. This is a very narrow interpretation and ignores the spirit of the accord and is a violation of the general trend of comprehensive peace accord signed between the government and the Maoists on November 21, 2006 as also the earlier code of conduct for cease fire agreed to between the two parties on 26th May 2006.
The steps that are being taken by both the parties are retrograde ones that will have an adverse impact on the peace process and eventually the stability of the country.