Five years after the beginning of a revolutionary transition, Nepal is without a Constituent Assembly, which was dissolved in May 2012, has a caretaker government since May 2012 and is struggling to find ways to draft a new constitution. In fact, the latest Maoist proposal to form a Chief Justice (CJ)-led government may not save the country from its constitutional and political crisis due to strong resistance, cutting across party lines.
The perception in Nepal is that the proposal was a foreign idea. While some argue that it was floated initially by the European representatives in Nepal, others view it as an Indian imposition. The opposition parties, especially the CPN-Maoist (Mohan Baidya faction) and rightist parties have come out with statements that it is an ‘Indian design’. Speculation about India’s role was rife in Nepal after the Indian envoy to Kathmandu, Jayant Prasad, reportedly met President Ram Baran Yadav followed by a meeting with the CJ, who was introspecting on the proposal and agreed to it after this visit. Second, there is no consensus within the political parties on the idea.
There is a horizontal division in the largest opposition party, the Nepali Congress, on this issue. While top leaders of the party feel that a ‘neutral’ government will be beneficial, its second-rung leaders have been opposing the idea. They argue that such an arrangement impinges on the judiciary’s independence. In fact, the third largest party, CPN-UML, also faces a similar problem. It is now willing to search for an alternative arrangement to the CJ-led government.
Baidya’s party has taken the strongest position mainly as opposition to PM Baburam Bhattarai, who they have criticised. It would be more open to supporting a government led by UCPN (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda or NC president Sushil Koirala. In fact, of late, the party has joined hands with rightwing forces and others against Bhattarai, despite its ideological differences with them. The party considers that as a legitimate strategy (‘united front’ with others) to oust revisionist forces.
On the other hand, the Federal Democratic Republic Alliance led by Prachanda has argued that the opposition parties are opposing the proposal out of fear that they may not perform well in the forthcoming elections because of the grand alliance between Madhes-based parties and the UCPN (Maoist). But it is unclear if the big parties themselves are willing to go for polls given the divisiveness and polarisaton along ethnic lines.
The parties need to re-look at their previous proposals like an election government under a well-accepted influential leader. There is a strong feeling amongst second-rung leaders of the NC and the CPN-UML that Prachanda could be the appropriate person to handle the situation. His candidature may be acceptable to the pro-federalism forces in Nepal. In that case, the international community, especially India, should respect the majority view and should be open to work with any popular government in Nepal.
There is little doubt that an early election could help resolve the current impasse in Nepal. But it is also certain that given the hostility and political bickering amongst the parties and the inter-and intra-party rivalry, such an election may not take place by June 5, the proposed date to hold the polls. Only a political settlement can guide the country towards a long-lasting peace and stability. The onus must then lie on the largest political force, the UCPN (Maoist), to devise a proper compromise on issues of national concern, especially on the issue of state restructuring over which the Constituent Assembly was dissolved.
Akanshya Shah is Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation and Nihar Nayak is Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
The views expressed by the authors are personal