Nepal on the brink, again! | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 02, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 02, 2010

Nepal on the brink, again!

Promise for inclusive restructuring of the State is in question. Photo Source: telegraphnepal

DEMOCRACIES sometimes have to go through ridiculous rituals. It has been more than two months after Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned as Nepal's Prime Minister. Eight rounds of election has thus far failed to elect a new leader. The fact that the country does not yet have a Constitution and that the present House is not a regular hung parliament like in Britain rather the first elected Constituent Assembly formed to write a new statute of the country compounds the already complex problem. The annual budget is already two months late and indications are that without a consensus across party-lines, the current lame-duck government will not be able to present the budget let alone ratify it.
Nepal has already had three Prime Ministers after the regime change of April 2006 and 19 in the last 19 years. Such gross political instability coupled with economic stagnancy and turmoil in the Terai region bordering India's Uttar Pradesh and Bihar does not auger well for the nascent republic. Political parties have yet again held the nation at ransom at a time when diarrhea and cholera are rampant and monsoon flood has swept away villages in several parts of the improvised country. Even otherwise, the main industrial and agricultural area in the south is already being ruled by the writ of nefarious gangs and criminal squads. Now in the absence of a government for such a long time has in effect accelerated a vertical collapse of the state emergency delivery system and disaster management capability.
Constituent Assembly elections held on April 10th 2008 saw the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) emerge as the single largest party in Nepal. Nobody either within the country or outside had ever predicted this surprising outcome. Its Chairman and former guerrilla leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' became the Prime Minister but his government was short-lived due to differences with the 90 thousand strong army and with Nepal's powerful neighbor India regarding the sacking of the Chief of the Army Staff. Madhav Kumar Nepal who had lost in two constituencies to the Maoists in the elections, led a coalition government of centrist Nepali Congress and moderate left UML party. But his government too was a wasted year as little concrete was achieved either on the issue of rehabilitation and reintegration of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) or the equally contentious proposed federal setup and which political system to adopt in the future. Instead, a huge trust deficit between the major parties prompted the Maoists to hit the streets and boycott parliament proceedings. As a corollary, deadline of May 28 of this year was missed and an additional year was granted to give the people their new Constitution.
What the Nepali people are abhorring at the moment is horse trading of the lowest standard, parties are being split and the Terai based parties are continuously abstaining from the vote which is not only a malpractice in a Westminster model of parliamentary system but a mockery of the nascent democracy. It is this very form of brinkmanship and self-centered behavior that had led to the failure of the 1990 Constitution yet the parties do not seem to have learnt any lesson from their country's own recent history.
Nepal is geo-strategically significant for a number of reasons: It sits in close proximity to two 'would be' superpowers- China and India with their intensifying strategic competition within South Asian countries. Although they are known to be the rising global giants, Nepal has open and porous borders with South Tibet and North Bihar, two of the most backward and soft underbellies of these 'powers to be' where decades of neglect has resulted in insignificant economic or social progress. An unstable Nepal unable to govern itself and increasingly collapsing to economic ruin and political disturbance could invite involvement of outside powers in a region that is in no shortage of ethnic, religious, linguistic, ideology based conflicts and secessionist movements. Already the United Nations Mission is present to monitor the arms and armies of both sides of Nepal's conflict with the Security Council giving a seventh extension (Resolution 1939) on Sep.15th. Repeated extension with the peace process seemingly going nowhere, hostile parties not in accord to settle core issues of constitution drafting coupled with escalating lawlessness in the countryside can lead to a paralysis of the state on the one hand and increased international interference on the other. UN Secretary General Ban ki Boon said on September 9th that he will propose 'alternative measures' to the Security Council after UNMIN's term expires in 4 months.
The general convention of the centrist party Nepali Congress ended on September 22nd with the elderly Sushil Koirala defeating Sher Bahadur Deuba, a three times Prime Minister. Koirala is known to be a hard-liner against the Maoists and this is likely to further corner the latter without whom an end to the current turmoil cannot be found. While Prachanda and Jhal Nath Khanal have backed out from the voting, the lone candidate Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress is still bent on continuous elections for Prime Ministership although his party's strength falls too short for even a simple majority.
It is absolutely critical that political parties in Nepal need to first form a consensus government, expedite the peace process, draft the Constitution within the stipulated timeframe of May 2011 and work together for an acceptable formula for the rehabilitation of the PLA. History is replete with myriad of examples of forceful authoritarianism emerging out of necessity when feeble democratic leaders ramble over trivial issues of day-to-day governance.
The writer is Director, Centre for South Asian Studies, Kathmandu and is author of the latest book "New Nepal: The Fault-lines" published by SAGE.

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