By Padmaja Murthy
The election on 3 February 2011 of a new prime minister, the third since the 2008 constituent assembly elections, has not brought the required stability to Nepal. The election itself took place after six months of the caretaker government which saw seventeen failed attempts to elect a prime minister. The unexpected manner in which Jhala Nath Khanal was elected struck the wrong chord not only within his party, the UML, but also the party which supported him, the UCPN (M), and the Nepal polity in general whereby consensus was further fractured. This is reflective of the poor commitment of the political parties and their leaders to the people’s welfare which in fact predated the Maoist insurgency and continued thereafter as was seen in the period following Jana Andolan I of 1990 wherein ten governments were formed in as many years. The challenges Khanal faces are not unique to him and are similar to those his predecessors faced.
The new prime minister has not been able to form a proper cabinet even after more than one month of being elected. Thus, the fate of the peace process and constitution-writing which needs to be concluded by the extended deadline of 28 May this year remains doubtful. The slow progress of the peace process since 2008 also brings out the limited role external stakeholders, including India, can play to take it forward in the changed situation in Nepal with its increasing political parties, new leaders and an awakened and politicized people. On the other hand, people’s uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East once again reiterate how these movements, of which Nepal itself has been a witness in the past, can influence change if the political class fails to accomplish the task assigned to it. Last year the people rejected the mechanism of indefinite strikes when it was called for by the Maoists. In the coming months once again the people of Nepal would have to play a critical role.
The Election, Left Disunity and the 7 point agreement
Jhala Nath Kamal was elected with the last minute unexpected support of the UCPN (M) when its leader Dahal, who was also to contest the elections, withdrew his candidature. Fifty one Maoist lawmakers close to vice-chairman Dr Baburam Bhattarai submitted their dissent against the move to chairman Dahal, though they abided by the party decision. Later, the UML leaders expressed their displeasure when they were made aware of the 7 point agreement between Khanal and Dahal, a decision that had bypassed party bodies and had formed the basis for Maoist support for Khanal. As per the agreement, the two leaders had agreed to form a separate force of the Maoist combatants or comprising of Maoist combatants and personnel from other security agencies and give the force some particular responsibility. They had also agreed to take the leadership of the government turn by turn as far as possible. The agreement was duly amended by UML before its acceptance which in turn upset the Maoists, delaying the whole process of full cabinet formation and portfolio allocation. Presently, the possible allocation of the ‘home ministry’ to the Maoists as agreed upon in the 7 point agreement is being opposed by sections in the UML. Others like the Nepali Congress (NC) have termed the agreement a hindrance to the peace process and constitution-drafting.
Consensus on ‘What’, Disagreement on ‘How’
Whichever government is in power, be it the Maoists, any other left party, the Nepali Congress or the Madhesi parties, there is already an agenda laid out. The people of Nepal are not going to be satisfied with anything short of implementing an inclusive agenda. This is an important development as well as an achievement and the process has already begun with the CA elections of 2008. The new constitution now has to reflect the aspirations of the marginalized so as to bring them into the social and economic mainstream; institutions have to facilitate the working of a federal democracy and Nepal reorganized accordingly. The democratization of the Nepali Army will contribute towards reflecting diversity in the society as well as civilian supremacy, and the rehabilitation and integration of Maoist combatants will not only remove the infrastructure built to wage the insurgency but also a situation of two armies within a state. Only then can the country’s economic development and reconstruction be focused upon.
The differences arise with reference to how to achieve these tasks. Reconciliation of the diverse view points has to be undertaken without any external interference. While the new prime minister has his task cut out, he seems to be embroiled, much like his predecessors, in secondary issues of power-sharing. Even if another new government were to come to power, the agenda and challenges would remain the same. It is time the peace constituency within Nepal took centre stage and urged the political parties to move ahead with consensus.
Former Fellow, IDSA, New Delhi and former Visiting Research Fellow, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), Geneva
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