By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
After failing to work out a consensus among the parties, the two major parties- the Nepali Congress and the UML with a few fringe parties, elected the veteran Nepali Congress Parliamentary leader Sushil Koirala as the 37th Prime Minister with 405 votes for and 148 members against in the election conducted on the 10th of February.
The election of Sushil Koirala was not without the usual drama, with the UML demanding its pound of flesh till the end and it was possible only after the two parties Nepali Congress and the UML arrived at a six-point (some say seven point) agreement for cooperation.
But the agreement turned sour soon after- Sushil Koirala is supposed to have violated the understanding reached in power sharing when he dragged his feet in appointing Bom Dev Gautham of UML as Deputy Prime Minister with Home Portfolio. The fear of the Nepali Congress is that the UML will unduly influence the local body elections coming within six months with the Home portfolio under its control. This shows the level of the trust between the two parties though the situation demands that the two parties get on well each other to see the constitution through.
The six point understanding included:
1. The new constitution will be promulgated within one year. This is the common demand of all parties though it is doubtful whether the deadline will be adhered to.
2. Take ownership of the progress made in the previous constituent assembly. A section of the political group, particularly the Maoists were afraid that pressure may be brought in to change the federal character of the constitution as also the progress made in resolving many issues by the committee headed by Dahal. The problem then was that many of such decisions were not regularised through the interim assembly. The RPP N of Kamal Thapa which made a good showing in this elections argued that 85 percent of the present assembly members were not part of the previous assembly and therefore the decisions taken by the earlier assembly should not be imposed on the new one. If this logic is accepted and an attempt is made to draft the constitution afresh, it would take another four years as happened earlier and even beyond to produce new one!
3. Endorsing the continuation of President and Vice President. This became a highly controversial one with almost all the parties except the Nepali Congress demanding a fresh election for the two posts. It is unfortunate that both the President and the Vice President continued to stay on despite an overwhelming opposition from the parties other than the NC. They could have made a graceful voluntary exit that would have enhanced their stature and established a useful precedent instead of leaning on to the Supreme Court verdict that allowed their continuation till the promulgation of a new constitution. On the other hand, the chief of the interim government and former Chief Justice Regmi resigned from the post of Chief Justice when he learnt that the Bar Council was totally opposed to his return to the Court.
4. The UML to support Sushil Koirala in the election to the post of Prime Minister. The understanding was that the UML will get the chairmanship of the assembly and the post of Home Minister though after the elections, the Nepali Congress denied having agreed to give the post of Home ministership to the UML.
5. Fresh Election for President and Vice President after the promulgation of a new constitution. This is related to point 3. The point is that if the promulgation of the new constitution is delayed, both the current President and the Vice President can continue indefinitely!
6. Preparing a common minimum policy and conduct of the government. This will work only if there is a minimum mutual trust between the two dominant parties which is seen to be lacking. The mutual wrangling that went on for days from the November elections does not give any hope of mutual trust that is needed to run the government at least for the sake of providing a new constitution within the deadline of one year.
On Sushil Koirala:
The seventy four-year old bachelor, Sushil Koirala has a reputation to be a man of integrity and honesty( a rare quality these days among politicians in this part of the region). He has had no experience in public life though he was associated with the Nepali Congress since 1955. In his younger days he was a great revolutionary and was involved in the famous hijacking of the Nepali government plane in 1973. He was jailed in India for three years on this account. He had also spent six years in jail in Nepal when he joined the movement against the Rana regime. In all he was in exile in India from 1960 to 1980.
Koirala has a clean image, but many analysts feel that having no experience in administration, he may find it difficult to handle the rough and tumble of Nepali politics. He is the fourth from the Koirala clan to be the Prime minister. The one negative point is that he is reported to be in poor health.
There are plenty of tasks awaiting Sushil Koirala’s immediate attention. The challenges are formidable that starts from keeping his own party men under control when even the leadership of the party had to be decided by an election. The big question is whether the loser Sher Bahadur Deuba who had been Prime Minister thrice earlier cooperate? It is surprising that Deuba wanted to be the Prime Minister for the fourth time and he had assumed that he had the full support of India!
The first and foremost task for Sushil Koirala is to get the drafting of the constitution going and to see that it is promulgated within one year. In the meantime he has to ensure that local body elections take place within six months.
The second and equally important task is to set up the TRC (truth and reconciliation commission) and the victim disappearance commission going. Unless this is done there could be no finality to the cease fire process and restoration of normalcy.
The third task is to provide relief to the conflict hit people. The victims of the internal insurgency have so far been neglected and this needs to be attended to immediately.
The fourth task relates to the economy. This includes controlling the price of essential commodities, improving environment for foreign investments, development of infra structure and providing social services.
The fifth task relates to making a common minimum programme and policies targeting social justice and economic prosperity. While preparing the plan would be easy, difficulty would arise in actually implementing it with sincerity.
The Sixth task or one may call it a challenge is to stop the curse of strikes and bandas which have an enormous adverse impact on the economy. Another related problem is the curse of corruption.
As one observer Manandhar, a free lance journalist has said “what is predictable about Nepal’s politics is its total unpredictability.” This is very true even today.