Nepalese PM has his task cut out: Write and ratify a new constitution

  • Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 10, 2014 22:50 IST

Nepal getting a new prime minister would normally not be a source of great excitement, but the election of Sushil Koirala is more than just about ending a complex electoral cycle. Mr Koirala will be the first Nepalese PM from a mainstream party to command a solid majority in the constituent assembly and a clear mandate to rule for one year.

This means Nepal, for the first time since the end of the civil war and the overthrow of its monarchy, can now reasonably hope for a government that will be able to write and ratify its new constitution — and allow the country to take a major step towards political stability.

After the last election, Mr Koirala’s Nepali Congress and its coalition partner, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), together won around 370 out of the 601 seats in the assembly.

Mr Koirala then fended off attempts by other leaders in his party to become the party’s PM candidate. He then agreed to a drastic condition to get communist support by which he would hold presidential and prime ministerial elections again after a year. But at the heart of this understanding was that this would be done after the constitution was completed.

Helpfully, the only major political party that could play spoilsport to this, the Maoists, was reduced to only 80 seats in the assembly. The results have shocked its leaders to put up any opposition to the new government for a while.

All of this is a welcome development for India. The new government encapsulates two of New Delhi’s broad policy goals for Nepal. One is that a constitution be passed. Without this essential first step, every government in Kathmandu functions on the basis of questionable legitimacy and long-term policy development has been more or less impossible.

The other is that hardline elements among the Maoists who remain sceptical of parliamentary democracy remain marginalised within the political system.

Nepal has survived, staggering along with successively weaker governments and without a constitution for several years. But this has been in part because it is economically joined at the hip to India and its population has learnt to migrate overseas for work and live on remittances.

This has also meant that Nepalis are often the most likely victims of immigrant worker abuse — as happened in the World Cup construction sites in Qatar recently. Nepal today works out of desperate necessity. Mr Koirala has a chance to make it work thanks to domestic choice.

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