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  The PM's knot  


Since my last piece a fortnight ago, a lot of negotiations between the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN (Unified Marxist-Leninist) has taken place toward striking a deal to break the political deadlock.

However, what is preventing a compromise and its announcement is the difference over who the next prime minister (PM) should be. Another hurdle is the intra-party feud in the UCPN (Maoist) ranks which is only intensifying.

Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and one of the vice-chairmen, Baburam Bhattarai, have indulged in shadow-boxing which is not even an open secret now. A private chat with leaders of both the factions reveals there is growing mistrust between the two. While Dahal is even open to forsaking his party’s claim to prime ministership rather than seeing his colleague Bhattarai getting it, the latter reads this as the opportune moment to go for chairman’s jugular when he is at his weakest moments politically. Both factions have publicly blustered about war and death if PM Madhav Kumar Nepal does not step down and pave the way for a national unity government under its leadership. That public posturing is more intended at intra-party rivals than at the NC and the UML.

But the delay this time is not just due to the Maoists.

NC parliamentary party leader Ram Chandra Poudel, his party colleague and ex-PM Sher Bahadur Deuba and CPN-UML Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal have been lobbying covertly to be the next premier. Dahal, a past master at pitting one party against another, has done it again successfully. Leaders close to Poudel, Deuba and Khanal admit that Dahal had promised his support to each of the three if he himself is not an automatic replacement of PM Nepal. No wonder, Bhattarai is seething with rage.

Some NC leaders have claimed leadership of the next government on the ground that the first- and the third-largest parties have already had their chance. This has increased the anticipatory heart beat of Poudel and Deuba. Khanal, too, is not only speaking to leaders in his own party, he has also spoken to other leaders, namely Madhesi People’s Rights Forum.

Had this been a normal time, this power politics could have been excused. But we are so close to losing the Constituent Assembly (CA) before it completes the sole task for which it has been elected. This jockeying for power is so out of sync with the demand of the time. Some politicians have complained in private that the people mostly see them as good-for-nothing fellows despite their toil, contribution and sacrifice. True, not every criticism of the parties and their leaders is justified but perception matters a lot in politics. The feeling that the parties are utterly selfish and would go to any length is very overwhelming.

And why blame the people if they feel that way? After all, each of the Big 3 has been found wanting.

Had this been a normal time, the ongoing power politics could have been excused. But we are so close to losing the Constituent Assembly before it completes the sole task for which it has been elected. This jockeying for power is so out of sync with the demand of the time.
PM-aspirants Poudel, Deuba and Khanal and their parties need to think less about their “legitimate” chances and more on why this government needs to be replaced in the first place. After all, as this writer has repeated, PM Nepal still commands a majority in the elected parliament. Because of the make-up of the CA-cum-Legislature Parliament, it is not possible to move ahead toward the goals of drafting the new constitution and establishing lasting peace by keeping any side out of the power loop. The Maoists tried this by keeping the NC out of power-sharing deal but it resulted in the former bowing out of the government. NC-UML did the same by keeping the Maoists out, resulting in where we are. I am not suggesting that the blame has to be shared equally. The Maoists have been more irresponsible than the other two and we are facing this crisis since the ex-rebels have proved incapable of adhering to agreed pacts and democratic norms.

But the NC and the UML risk being as irresponsible as the Maoists who were made to bite the dust since their “decisive” indefinite aam hartal (general strike) ended in a fiasco.

Before I go further, let me point out the risk the three parties are taking by trying to read the May 8 shanti sabha (peace assembly) at Basantapur and the spontaneous rally afterwards.

Both Maoist and non-Maoists are misreading or rather pretending to misread public opinion.

The momentous peace assembly, which forced the blustering Maoists to end their “decisive” battle, has several imports. Its very happening told the Maoists that although the Kathmandu Valley residents overwhelmingly voted them to seven of the 15 CA seats (with six going to the NC and two to NWPP), it was not to be taken as blanket license for indulging in high-handedness. The Maoists and some of their apologists, of course, tried to paint the peace assembly as “cozy” Kathmandu’s rejection of their fellow countrymen from the far-flung villages. The Maoists ignore the real significance of the assembly at their own peril. The NC and the UML should not read May 8 as automatic support for themselves. The assembly in which overwhelming number of people participated spontaneously despite the Maoist threats and misinformation by their TV and FM radio, and the conspicuous absence of pro-Maoist civil society stalwarts, was against the strike and in favor of timely constitution and peace.

So far, the NC leaders (in contrast to the openly differing UML leaders) have demonstrated exemplary resolve and unity of purpose. Leaders of all ranks have been very consistent in their stance to allow the Maoists back as leader of the government provided they agree to the following: Tangible and time-bound integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants, return of the property seized by the Maoists and dismantling of the para-military (barrack-like) structure of the YCL as per their previous commitments.

But it appears the peace assembly and the almost open feud in the Maoists ranks has prompted a rethink within the NC (and the UML) vis-à-vis leadership of the national unity government. Even if Dahal and his party agree to non-Maoist PM, things will effectively remain where they are.

The NC and the UML, in their own long-term interest and in the interest of the peace process and the constitution for which they had contributed no less than the UCPN (Maoist), should tell the Maoists that the PM will be from amongst them. In return, the Maoist party has to convincingly demonstrate that it will honor its past and recent pledges on integration/rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants, return of the seized property, unhindered constitution-writing process and doing away with YCL’s monstrosity. Dahal should no longer make an issue out of the number of Maoist combatants to be integrated into security forces. PM Nepal has hinted about the existence of an audio tape of Dahal’s discussion in a foreign country in which he acknowledged the number of combatants to be integrated. This appears to be true. Lying about the number he had previously agreed will only further damage Dahal’s prospect as potential PM this time round.

The onus, without doubt, is on Dahal to immediately come up with a name for the PM. However, what Bhattarai needs to understand is that even if Dahal agrees on his candidacy, the latter will try to destabilize his government which will adversely affect the peace process and constitution-writing. Once the confusion over the next PM from among the Maoists is cleared, agreement on other issues should be easy.

The Defense, Home and Finance should naturally go to other parties in the national unity government as part of the consensus deal. It goes without saying that the CA’s term should be extended without further delay and without any strings attached. You allow the CA to die, and all hell will break lose.
Published on 2010-05-20 02:41:52
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The PM's Knot
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Nirmal, the khurafati. So you want the Maoists to have their man as PM, defense ministr, home minister and finance minister? Power-sharing (???) == Maoists taking up all plum posts, right, Nirmal?

Where were you when the Maoists were sitting pretty as PM (Prachanda), home minister (UML’s Bam Dev who was home minister is actually a Maoist in UML clothing), defense minister (Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal), finance minister (Baburam Bhattarai), information and communication (Krishna Bahad [more]
  - Saroj Adhikari
my only concern is if this newspaper is not biased to one party, then it would be great if i could read pieces not just from congress or uml but also from maoist, RPP points of view. Why doesn´t republica ask people with those ideologies for articles?

"Kedar, you have pro-Maoist bend; so it is not surprising that you will overlook every single monkey-dance that the Maoists indulge in. "---- may be. And it´s getting stronger because of this kind of biasnes [more]
  - kedar
I call things by its own name, where in the good earth a journalist is seen telling parties which ministry should they hold and which should not? Only in decadent system. And Damakant is again and again contributing to the cause of decadency. None should feel molest if I am in gap or not. And it is strange that the moderators of this online newspaper who censored my previous comment for whatever reason don´t do so with Gyarel aka cyberlekali and R. Pradhan no matter they are abusive and p [more]
  - Nirmal
Nirmal is back after a long gap and in his trademark abusive style. If he cannot challenge the writer with arguments, Nirmal simply calls names. Pathetic. There are some assertions in this piece that can be questioned, both from a Maoist and non-Maoist viewpoints. But no, this man has to call names.

Damakant, I have been reading you since the Kathmandu Post days and would simply want to say keep it up. Nirmal, you make a laughing stock out of yourself by accusing the writer of being [more]
  - Ram Pradhan
Maoist leadership will never want to integrate them into any security or other systems.--------- may be Gyarel just knows how to talk but not to get updated with affairs. what about a separate security force? why not... are you afraid that 10000 maoist nepalese will control the whole army? pathetic and defeated mentality! and such mentality never can be progressive. [more]
  - kedar
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