By Fakir Mohan Pradhan
The uncertain calm in Nepal, disturbed by no more than occasional rumblings for the ouster of Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, received a jolt when at least 20 Political parties, mostly from the ruling coalition, announced the formation of an alliance – the Federal Democratic Republican Alliance (FDRA) – at a press conference at Hotel Radisson in the capital, on August 17, 2012. Led by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda and its constituents, the alliance includes the UCPN-M, Terai Madhesh Democratic Party (TMDP), TMDP-Nepal, Madheshi People’s Rights Forum–Democratic (MPRF-D), Madhesi People’s Rights Forum-Republican (MPRF-R), Rastriya Janamukti Party, Sadhbhwana Party and the Nepal Rastriya Party, among others. Samajbadi Janata Party Chairman Prem Bahadur Singh was declared the spokesperson of the alliance.
On August 9, 2012, top leaders of the constituent parties of the FDRA had agreed on the proposal to constitute an alliance named the Federal Democratic Alliance (FDA). However, on August 13, leaders of 26 political parties decided to change the name from FDA to FDRA, and to make the formal announcement on August 17.
The alliance, declaring itself in favour of federalist principles, aims to work towards ethnic-based federalism and the promulgation of a new constitution through the now dissolved Constituent Assembly (CA). Prachanda said the alliance has “long-term” and “strategic” importance and that it would continue until another election. He further stated that the alliance was prepared to hit the streets if a “conspiracy is hatched against identity-based federalism.”
The major opposition parties – Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) – and the newly formed Mohan Baidya-led CPN-Maoist (CPN-Maoist-Baidya) have come down heavily against the alliance, seeing it as an attempt to vitiate the political atmosphere by working against the politics of consensus. NC and CPN-UML see it as an attempt to prolong the life span of the care taker government and demand immediate resignation of the Prime Minister Bhattarai to pave the way for consensus government which would further the peace process.
The alliance was established because of a felt need to forge national consensus in favour of ethnic-based federalism and the promulgation of a new constitution through the CA. Prachanda argued that the alliance would negotiate from a position of strength, urging the NC and the CPN-UML to agree to identity-based federalism. The veiled threat in this argument was made more openly by Prachanda when he declared that political confrontation in the country in the days to come would be “between alliances”. Daring NC and CPN-UML to forge an alliance, Prachanda declared, on August 18, 2012, in Lahan, “Whether it is a fight or a deal, it will now be between alliances.”
The FDRA has put forward two options to end the current political impasse – either to hold election to the CA or to revive the dissolved CA.
Complicating issues, the CPN-Maoist-Baidya, created an alliance of nine fringe political parties – the Nepal Federal People’s Republic Front – on August 10, 2012, to unseat the Bhattarai Government. Baidya slammed the UCPN-M led FDRA, describing it as “a desperate attempt of the present Government to cling to power”.
In another development, marking the World Indigenous Day on August 9, 2012, Janjati and indigenous leaders unveiled the manifesto of a proposed indigenous people’s party – the Social Democratic Pluri-National Party – and vowed to complete the task of party formation within the next two months. The proposed party manifesto advocates single identity-based federalism. The party is expected to join the FDRA.
Meanwhile, on August 17, 2012, President Ram Baran Yadav rejected two election-related ordinances —Election to Member of the CA and Ordinance to Amend Some Existing Electoral Laws — recommended by the caretaker Government on July 27, sending a message that he would not approve ordinances that did not “satisfy” him or that lacked a minimal consensus among parties. The President’s office argued that the recommendation for the ordinance was rejected as they were not “relevant” in light of the formal announcement by the election Commission on July 31 to the effect that polls to CA on November 22 cannot be held.
Visibly dismayed by these developments, the Bhattarai Government was mulling over the prospects of resending the ordinances to the President on the grounds that it was within the constitutional powers of the Government to issue ordinances. However, better sense prevailed, and, on August 25, the Government decided not to bring any ordinance without political consensus. This has helped avoid a confrontation between the President and the Prime Minister, which has long been expected, but has been averted till now.
The FDRA is increasingly being regarded as an attempt to prolong the life of the UCPN–M-led caretaker Government, as well as muscle flexing by the UCPN-M. The political deadlock continues as NC and CPN-UML continue to demand the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Bhattarai, and the formation of a ‘consensus government’ under which the next election would take place. The UCPN-M, however, remains adamant that, before the resignation of the Prime Minister, contentious issues – especially that of identity-based federalism – must be solved. However, the demand for the ouster of the PM is getting louder, despite a defiant Prachanda’s declaration that the Caretaker Government would continue for 20 or 30 years, and even longer, if there was no consensus on identity-based federalism.
The FDRA is expected to be a prelude to come in handy for the UCPN-M, in case opposition parties take to streets to oust the Bhattarai Government. In the event of elections, moreover, the FDRA is expected to boost the chances of the coalition. The alliance is now trying to project the NC and CPN-UML as ‘anti-federalist’, though these parties contest such a projection. The CPN-UML has stated that it is ready for identity-based, but not single-identity based, federalism. It remains to be seen what the position of the Madhesh-based parties will be; these parties have been pressing for ‘One Madhesh, One Province’. They have, however, entered an alliance which is demanding single-identity based federalism, which militates against their ‘One Province’ demand.
Amidst the continuing deadlock , another crisis appears to be brewing. The ‘special budget’ that was brought by the Government through an ordinance, and approved by the President, provided funds for a third of the current year’s expenditure. If the political impasse is not cleared by then, a major crisis is likely, as the NC and CPN-UML are expected to oppose any further grants, to put pressure on Bhattarai to make way for a consensus government.
As a consequence of the current political crisis, one of the most contentious issues that had almost been resolved – the integration of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) combatants with the Nepal Army – has gone into limbo because of disagreements over meeting the Army’s selection criteria.
As the war of words continues, the major political parties reached an understanding on August 25, 2012, to refrain from a blame game and to hold a ‘serious dialogue’ to find a way out of the current political deadlock. Considering the belligerent positions of the major political formations and the UCPN-M’s present initiatives, both in the formation of the FDRA and to push through several ordinances, however, no early resolution appears likely. The NC and CPN-UML’s attempts to secure the dismissal of the Bhattarai Government through the President also militate against any negotiations in good faith. The grounds appear to be prepared for street mobilization – and the spectre of street violence cannot be far behind.
Fakir Mohan Pradhan
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management