By Nihar Nayak
Thirteen days after the election of a new prime minister, there is no respite from the political stalemate in Nepal. Differences between the Maoists and the CPN-UML over the distribution of portfolios have cropped up. The Maoists have decided to support the government from outside since the UML has allegedly misinterpreted the seven-point agreement reached between Jhalanath Khanal and Prachanda. The Maoists have accused the UML of not adhering to the agreement. This indicates the ambiguities in the seven-point deal and the limitations of the tactical alliance that was entered into under compulsion. Senior leaders from the ruling parties, opposition parties and civil society groups have questioned the terms and references of the agreement, which are:
1. The two parties vow to strengthen inclusive democracy and establish political and social system geared towards socialism while adhering to the pillars of national independence, indivisibility and sovereignty to create an independent economy through socio-economic transformation.
2. Agree to write a new constitution to institutionalise republic federalism uprooting all forms of feudalism, thus strengthening inclusive democracy and national independence.
3. Pledge to take the peace process to a logical end by executing all tasks related to integration, rehabilitation and voluntary retirement of Maoist combatants. We also agree to form a separate force for Maoist combatants or an alternative force combining the PLA and other security forces.
4. Agree to constitute a joint government. A high-level mechanism will be formed to assist in the governance. The mechanism will be led by the chiefs of the signatory parties on a rotational basis. A new government will be formed by including as many parties as possible. The sharing of important ministries, including home and defence, will be done in an appropriate and respectable manner. Top leaders of the two parties will take the responsibility for the same.
5. Minimum Common Programme of the new government and code of conduct will be formulated and enforced.
6. The two parties will lead the future governments on a rotational basis based on mutual understanding and long term cooperation.
7. It is hereby agreed that the UCPN (Maoist) will vote for the UML candidate in the prime ministerial election.
Khanal has to negotiate some important challenges in the coming days. The first and foremost task before him is to accommodate the questions raised by former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and senior leader K.P. Oli on the secret seven point deal. If Khanal compromises with the UML’s political agenda, then he may face stiff resistance inside his party. This could be suicidal for the UML in terms of losing its identity and may result in poor electoral performance in the coming days. Some factions of the UML may also split the party. On the other hand, if Khanal ignores the Maoist demands, then the alliance will be deadlocked.
Second, apart from ideological differences, both the UML and the Maoists have differences of opinion on several issues including the nature of the government, federalism, integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants, etc. There is also strong intra-party reservation regarding the seven point agreement.
Third, it is likely that the distribution of various portfolios would be a major challenge. The home portfolio became a matter of contention between the two parties. Maoists think that their holding the home ministry would pay good electoral dividends in the next elections, ensure control over internal security and provide a free hand to the Young Communist League. The portfolio could also be important for the Maoists given the possibility of integration of some PLA combatants with the formation of a separate paramilitary force.
Fourth, integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants could be another major challenge. There is no consensus among the political parties on this issue. There has not been any substantial progress on this issue since the formation of the AISC secretariat in November 2010. On January 22, 2011, the government had handed over the responsibility of the PLA to the AISC secretariat after the departure of UNMIN. Some factions of the Maoists are not happy with the AISC’s proposed rehabilitation plan and have demanded a political decision on the issue. As a result, the issue resurfaced in the recent seven-point agreement which proposed ‘to form a separate force for Maoist combatants or an alternative force combining the PLA and other security forces’. The Nepal Congress and factions in the UML have demanded that the new government clarify its position on the PLA integration issue, arguing that the number of cadres to be integrated into the Nepal Army should be declared before the promulgation of the new constitution.
Last but not least, the deadline for the already extended CA is approaching. The government has to write the constitution before that. Since the parties failed to meet the 2010 deadline, the CA was extended till May 28, 2011 to complete the peace process. That is unlikely to happen due to differences among the parties on various issues like the nature of government, federalism, integration, judiciary, etc. As result, an absolute (2/3rd) majority in the constituent assembly to adopt the new constitution looks elusive. In the last three years, two different governments have failed to forge consensus on these issues.
Considering the volatile situation and differences of opinion between the major political parties and other stakeholders, three scenarios may unfold in Nepal in the next few months.
1. Consolidation of the left coalition — After prolonged bargaining on the key portfolios, the issue gets settled. The coalition government manages a 2/3rd majority in the House by bringing in fringe parties and Madhesi factions (Upendra Yadav and others) into the government. The government makes the new constitution public by mid-May for the people’s and political parties’ responses. The CA promulgates the new constitution on May 28, 2011. The CA tenure is extended for a further six months to be followed by elections in March 2012. The left coalition consolidates and gains a majority in the elections.
2. Political stalemate with high degree of confrontation — Pressure builds up on the opposition parties due to the consolidation of the left coalition. Civil society and media also feel insecure. No party is willing to compromise on its political and ideological issues. The proceedings of the House get delayed further, leading to adverse political and economic implications. Internal conflict in the UML intensifies on the continuation of the coalition with the Maoists. Opposition parties protest in the CA and the streets against the seven-point agreement. Madhesi armed groups target the ruling parties again for not accommodating their demands. Political confrontation percolates to the popular level. Political stalemate delays the promulgation of the new constitution. International community intervenes to resolve the stand off. Parties enter into a new agreement to resolve the stalemate.
3. Forced constituent assembly elections — Political confrontation continues. NC, some factions in the UML, and other parties refuse to cooperate in the constitution-making process. Internal conflict in the UML intensifies on continuation of the coalition with Maoists. The UML splits vertically. Khanal fails to prove his majority and resigns as PM. The President asks Khanal to continue as caretaker PM and consults major political parties to resolve the differences. External intervention intensifies to resolve the stand-off. Several rounds of meetings between major political parties prove inconclusive by May 28, 2011. The President dissolves the CA cum Parliament and orders the election commission to conduct elections for a new CA within three months.
Considering the political situation in Nepal, scenario two is most likely to unfold. Although the option for the Maoists to join the Khanal government is open, for the time being the chances of a consensus government look remote. The Baburam faction in the Maoist party has opposed the idea of joining the Khanal-led government without the home ministry. And some Madhesi parties have laid out conditions to join the government and criticized the seven point agreement. Since the mandate of the present government is not just to rule the country but to promulgate the new constitution, which requires a 2/3rd majority, the support of Madhesi parties is crucial. Apart from that some factions in the UML have already opposed the proposal on extending the CA for two months. Thus, it is doubtful whether this government would be stable and would be able to conclude the peace process.
Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/WilltheNewleftgovernmentresolvethepoliticalimpasseinNepal_nnayak_160211