The parties are yet to begin serious negotiations on the extension of CA term due to expire on May 28 without yielding results. Not that the major parties can afford the dissolution of the CA, for that would only push the country into a dark tunnel, but they seem to be waiting for the final hours for bargaining in the hope of making the best out of the looming crisis.
The pitfall of this game, however, is that the parties, while hardening their public stances and avoiding serious negotiations behind the scenes, may find it difficult to step back in the final hours and save the country from falling into a serious crisis which will lead to a “might is right” situation.
With the parties declining to budge from their stances, the political crisis in Nepal is fast reaching a tipping point. The parties have now only two options on the table: Either face the dissolution of the CA, or agree on a concrete roadmap to peace with a power-sharing deal between the UCPN (Maoist) and the Nepali Congress (NC).
Public posturing and hardball game
The 10-point conditions put forward by the NC on Tuesday is a response to the government’s unilateral decision to table a bill on CA extension. Immediately after Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal came back to Nepal cutting short his Turkey visit, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal made Khanal decide to table the CA extension bill without consulting the NC. Dahal’s message was clear: He would give continuity to the current coalition if the NC doesn’t back him as the next prime minister under the condition that he would complete the “categorization” of the combatants before CA extension. And the NC’s message was louder: There would be no extension of the CA term unless the Maoists agree to speed up the process and strike a power-sharing deal, else prepare for dissolution of the CA. The NC and the Maoists are playing hardball on the issue, and the ball is now in the Maoist court.
What is Dahal’s game plan?
Jhalanath Khanal became prime minister promising to bring out a 50-day roadmap to peace, but more than 100 days of the government passed without any serious discussions on peace. Sources say there could be two reasons behind Dahal’s reluctance: 1) Pressure from the hard-line camp; and 2) the integration issue as the last card to become the prime minister.
But with the expiry of the CA term just a week away, Dahal was hard-pressed to bring out something to justify the coalition’s decision in favor of CA extension. On Thursday the party decided to accept the model for integration proposed by the Nepal Army (NA) and push for the integration of some 10,000 combatants into security forces. But the parties are yet to agree on the details of integration including the harmonization of ranks and the standard norms. The question is whether the parties would reach consensus on integration. If they agree, then the talks would shift to power-sharing, otherwise not, leaving the fate of the CA to be decided on the night of May 28.
What is NC planning?
NC thinks that it is the last chance to force the Maoists to complete the integration and rehabilitation of their combatants and transform their party into a “civilian” one. “If the Maoists don’t do it now they will never,” says an NC leader. NC doesn’t want only a Maoist commitment, in words as well as in deeds, to the completion of the integration process, but also a share in the government. NC doesn’t have difficulty to let the Maoists lead the government now, but wants government leadership in its own hand after some months when the peace process reaches an “irreversible stage.” But the Maoists have their own difficulty: How can Dahal convince his party to let the NC lead the government as the former rebels have officially declared NC as “class enemy which embodies the interests of domestic and international reactionaries?” “If they don’t, we will not lend support to CA extension,” says an NC leader.
Of course, dissolution of the CA would place the grand old party too in disadvantage, but the party knows that Maoists would be in a much more disadvantaged position. NC leaders argue that if the CA is dissolved, the regional and international powers would turn against the Maoists due to the latter’s unwillingness to complete the peace process, the Khanal-led government would go, and that the power will “naturally” slip into the hands of the president who is their own colleague. The corollary of the CA dissolution is chaos where the powerful rules are trying to crush the opposition.
Crisis at its peak
The political parties in fact may not reach the stage of final confrontation and strike a deal earlier, given the perception of mutual destruction post-May 28. And they may want to make a compromise. But the question is who blinks first. Much will also depend on the UML’s politburo meeting beginning Sunday. The UML faction led by KP Oli and Madhav Kumar Nepal is for demanding the resignation of Khanal in the same way when Khanal demanded resignation of Nepal last year. They argue that Khanal should resign, if the government fails to bring out any convincing proposal on the peace process. On the other hand, Dr Baburam Bhattarai faction in the UCPN (Maoist) would also withdraw its support to Dahal if the CA term is not extended. So without any concrete roadmap to peace, both Khanal and Dahal would be reduced to weaker positions.
More than four years after it began, Nepal’s peace process has taken a dangerous turn, and they are yet to decide whether they opt for peace or confrontation.
Political complexities abound and it would be a bit early to predict a future scenario. Crisis often leads to opportunity and it is up to the parties to decide whether they want to capitalize on it.