Interview Puranjan Acharya : Koirala’s record on constitution good, governance poor

Interview Puranjan Acharya : Koirala’s record on constitution good, governance poor

May 4, 2014-

Puranjan Acharya is a long-time Nepali Congress (NC) member, a political analyst and columnist who has cultivated a reputation as an objective and critical observer of Nepali politics. He was a confidant and advisor to Girija Prasad Koirala and has been a close follower of developments, both within the NC and in the broader political process. Now that two months have effectively passed since Sushil Koirala was elected prime minister, Kamal Dev Bhattarai and Pranaya SJB Rana asked Acharya to assess Koirala’s time in power, the inter- and intra-party dynamics of the NC and CPN-UML coalition and the challenges ahead for PM Koirala in producing a constitution in time.

Over two months into Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s tenure, how do assess his performance?

In the past 20 years or so, every prime minister has come into office with big promises. But by the time they leave office, they usually would not have fulfilled any of the promises made. This is not the case with Sushil Koirala. He never made any big promises. He said that he would do two things—hold local elections by April-May and produce a constitution. It is now clear that local elections cannot be held soon so he will not be delivering on 50 percent of his commitments. The remaining half has now become his primary agenda—producing a draft constitution by February next year. This agenda is on the right track. He has managed to cobble together a coalition government, which has a two-third majority in the Constituent Assembly (CA). So he has the requisite political strength. His leadership in forming the CA committees and the unanimous manner in which the heads were elected are to be appreciated. The biggest achievement here is that he managed to get Baburam Bhattarai to lead one of the most important committees. This shows that the third largest party in the CA is also coming on board, which would boost Koirala’s numbers to an absolute majority. Another very important achievement concerns the peace process. The transitional justice bill, which should have been passed seven years ago, was passed in two months of Koirala’s tenure.

Koirala has a reputation as a man who shies away from taking bold decisions. How then did these achievements come to pass?

One reason is that he has managed to rise above partisan party interests and has staffed the foundation of his government with capable NC leaders. He has even appointed leaders who openly disagreed with him in the party, like Narahari Acharya, Mahesh Acharya, Narayan Khadka and Prakash Man Singh. He has also managed to placate Sher Bahadur Deuba. So there are few challenging him from within the party, with the exception of Ram Chandra Poudel. Koirala himself hasn’t assumed any great responsibility but has managed to appoint the right people to take sectoral leadership.

One crucial aspect where the PM

has failed to show leadership is the nomination of 26 CA members. So every decision taken by the incomplete House could be legally challenged later.

Yes, the Cabinet should have nominated the 26 members by now, given that there is a constitutional provision requiring every decision to be passed by a full House. But I do not see any party calling for the nominations. The problem with Nepali politics has been that the parties are unstable and hence, governments are unstable. There are close to 200 people vying for the 26 seats. Maybe 50 people from within the NC itself. As long as Koirala doesn’t nominate anyone, there is no resentment from anyone. Concerning political legitimacy, yes, his work could possibly be challenged at the courts later. If such a case comes up, the judiciary will take political will into consideration.

How do you assess the governance part of the Koirala administration?

This aspect is very weak. Koirala hasn’t even been able to govern, let alone govern well. There is massive plunder of forest resources in Dadeldhura and the Churia range. There is even a President’s trust to halt the destruction of these resources. But Koirala

has not been able to do anything towards this end. There are also many high-level vacuums. Many constitutional bodies are headless and high-profile diplomatic appointments, including to the US and India, are vacant. No matter how much progress is made on the constitution, if he doesn’t pay attention to governance, Koirala won’t last.

What can Koirala do now to ensure that a constitution is written on time?

First, he has to reflect on why the constitution was not written the last time. The fundamental issue concerns federalism—the delineation, naming and number of provinces. For this issue, Koirala needs a capable team consisting of both technical experts and political leaders. These political leaders must be people that Koirala trusts to negotiate with dissenting factions and parties. Public support is also crucial. Koirala should report on informal discussions to the public and inform them of the direction he is headed. The people support Koirala right now because he has never been tainted by corruption. But he needs to immediately start work on federalism or he will fail. As of yet, he has yet to form a team.

Like you said, Ram Chandra Poudel has expressed dissatisfaction with Koirala over not being appointed acting party president. What kind of challenges can Koirala now expect from within the party?

There was definitely a deal where Koirala promised to hand over responsibility to Poudel as acting party president but he has not done so. No one within the party believes that Koirala can handle both the party presidency and the prime ministership. But if Koirala makes Poudel party president, he risks making Deuba unhappy. The fact that Koirala is still holding onto the party presidency shows that he is insecure about being prime minister. If Koirala’s aim is to lead government for five years, produce a constitution, hold elections and pass on the reins of the country, there is no need for him to continue as party president. From what I have seen, since the leadership of Matrika Prasad Koirala, every Congress government has fallen because of internal politics. Koirala must reflect on the history of the Congress. If the Congress is not united in its stance, it won’t need an external force; it will topple itself.

What about the NC’s relations with the UML? Instead of staying together as coalition partners, they seem to be drifting apart.

As of right now, the government will not face any challenge from the UML. One characteristic of the UML is that it is ready to form a government with anyone. As far as I have seen, the UML is extremely hesitant to stay out of government. The party has clearly understood the value of being in government. It has managed to thoroughly establish many networks with the system and works hard to keep those links functional. But the Maoists will continually try to push the UML to quit the coalition. It is only natural for a third party to do so. The Maoists will also try to displace the UML as the country’s primary communist force. To do this, the UCPN (Maoist) will adopt an exceedingly liberal stance with the NC. Furthermore, the UML will not quit government as long as there is a chance that local elections will take place. This was the sole reason it demanded the Home Ministry.  

Finally, what are the prospects of the new constitution being written in time?

The constitution will definitely be written. I will not say it will come in a year exactly but within 18 months, we will have a constitution. But I doubt that federal provinces will be created. A political team backed by experts to create the provinces will be created but all political activity will continue within the five existing development regions we have now, maybe with Kathmandu as a separate region. What the constitution can do is mention explicitly that Nepal is now a federal republican state. That will placate most people for the time being. But additional exercises will still have to be done to properly federate the country. So a constitution to create the new kind of federalism we are talking about now will not come within 18 months. It might not even come in five years.

Published: 05-05-2014 09:37

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