view from in here: Bumpy road ahead

  • Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s disclosure of cancer could hasten new political developments
view from in here: Bumpy road ahead

Jun 15, 2014-

When parties went to the polls in November and the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML secured a near two-thirds majority, the political process, to many, seemed securely back on track. The Mohan Baidya group and other poll opposing parties had failed to make any headway in their call for an election boycott, Prachanda’s Maoists and the Madhesi parties had been roundly defeated and the political process seemed to have been initiated in its new avatar.  

Four months on, politics is again fragmented, if along different fault lines. Coalition partners don’t see eye-to-eye on a number of issues, not least on the outlay of funds for the all-important annual budget. Ruling parties have failed to articulate a vision for the new constitution and equally so for good governance. Twenty-six seats in the Constituent Assembly (CA) continue to remain vacant; a number of crucial constitutional bodies remain without their functionaries; more than a dozen foreign missions, including in Delhi, remain without ambassadors.

If paralysis is symptomatic of an indecisive government, we seem to have one in Kathmandu.

Now a major complication seems to be brewing within the NC, the senior partner in the ruling coalition.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala himself acknowledged last week that he suffers from lung cancer. Until now, his battle against the deadly disease has largely been a murky story with all kinds of guessing games associated with it.

Blessing in disguise?

Still, his disclosure at least leaves us in no doubt that the prime minister is not in sound health. This could hasten new political developments.

With Koirala’s failing health and his departure for New York for treatment on Monday and possible absence from Kathmandu for some time, there are three new possibilities before the Congress party.

First, the status quo continues, with the current Cabinet taking increasing responsibilities to make up for the prime minister’s absence. Those who are for Koirala’s continuity argue that a change in guard in Baluwatar has historically entailed new complications and has been an extremely time consuming affair. Therefore, it’s far wiser to let Koirala stay put, even if he is going to be a near-dummy.

Second, he is replaced by former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who could also maintain the intra-party dynamic because of his sizeable following in the Congress. This will mean giving continuity to an NC-led government with a minor Cabinet reshuffle.

Third, there is a group, if small, in the NC, which would rather have the UML lead the government.  

Local elections

Whether Koirala’s departure from Kathmandu and ailing health will lead to the emergence of new political changes, it is a fact that he has failed to cash in

on the sweeping public mandate that put him to office.

Some were even talking about 1+4 years of centre-right rule: the first one year to complete the constitution, then four more years in office with a singular focus on economic development.

To many, the need for new elections are nothing but political. Baidya and the poll-opposing forces are natural obstacles in institutionalising the changes that took place after 2006—secularism, federalism and republicanism. While there is some level of reservation in the major parties on these changes, any delay in the constitution project will only contribute to new complications.

The call for local elections will bring some political momentum among mainstream parties who have gone back to shell after the November elections.

The most perceptible political activities in the Eastern region, for example, are not that of major parties which swept the elections but that of the Baidya group, which is strongly reaching out to both armed and unarmed outfits that oppose the CA process.

For the first time since November elections, Kumar Lingden of Federal Limbuwan State Council successfully called a banda in the Eastern region. Security officials say they are closely following the revival of armed and unarmed Janajati/Adivasi/ Madhesi outfits, one of which is openly espousing for ‘an autonomous Madhes’. Though these groups have far smaller cadre bases compared to major political parties, security officials fear that a continued political vacuum and high levels of unemployment among the youth offer fertile ground for radicalisation.

In light of continued political drift, the engagement of the Baidya group by the three major parties last week was politically meaningful. Baidya has formally proposed a broad based ‘national political assembly’ to bring the parties outside the CA into the political fold. This perhaps is the first major political step by Prime Minister Koirala to engage forces outside the CA. Steps like these have been few and far between.

Published: 16-06-2014 08:56

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