Monday, August 15, 2011
Nepal's politics-Every faction for itself
THE resignation of the prime minister, Jhalanath Khanal, Sunday evening did not come as a surprise. Nepal’s premiers rarely last much longer than a year in office and Mr Khanal’s seven-and-a-half months had been marked by particularly fierce opposition.
He came to power following a majority vote in parliament and promising to deliver progress on Nepal’s stalled peace process. However, unable to secure a consensus among parliamentary forces, he proved incapable of keeping his word.
Nepal’s political process has descended into feuding, of a dismally familiar sort, at a particularly sensitive time. In 2006 the country ended ten years of civil war between the army and a Maoist insurgency, starting a peace process based on accommodation between the existing political parties and the former rebels. In 2008 there were elections to a Constituent Assembly that was to draft a new, democratic constitution. The assembly’s first act was to abolish the monarchy that had become a common foe of both the Maoists and the other parties. They have been able to agree on very little since.
The comprehensive peace agreement struck in 2006 envisaged an all-party government until the new constitution was complete. Instead there have been four prime ministers from three different parties since 2008, in a series of majority-coalition governments. While in opposition, each party has been willing to boycott and obstruct the process at every step. All sides’ failures to abide by commitments have left the peace agreement threadbare.
To make matters worse, the largest parties all suffer from bitter internal divisions. Among Mr Khanal’s greatest opponents were members of his own United Marxist-Leninist (UML) party, who were taking their revenge after he helped to topple the previous prime minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal, who belongs to a rival faction of the UML.
Analysts compare these dynamics to the period of unstable coalitions that characterised the kingdom's politics the late 1990s, when politicians were determined to prevent their rivals achieving anything that could be presented as a success. Meanwhile, ministers used their fleeting control of government resources to plunder the public finances and reward their supporters. Many of today’s political leaders are the same people who dominated that period—it seems that they are unable to move on.
The new constitution has yet to be drafted. The mandate of the Constituent Assembly, which also functions as an interim legislature, has been extended twice in frantic midnight negotiations. The latest extension expires at the end of August and will require a new deal between the party leaders if the country is not to be left without an elected assembly. Although some progress has been made towards the new constitution, several fundamental questions have not been resolved. Any draft charter that could be put before the public still seems some way off.
A critical issue stalling progress on other fronts is the fate of the Maoists’ former fighters. Five years after the end of the war they are still languishing in camps. The other parties accuse the Maoists of being unwilling to lose their military wing. However, details of a package that would integrate some of them into the national-security agencies and others into civilian life already have been agreed in private, at least in broad strokes. Since then the issue has been used as a bargaining chip by all sides to slow down the process while advancing other agendas.
Now, once again, there is a chance to form an all-party government and complete the process. Although substantive issues remain, a resolution would seem to be within reach—if only there were co-operation between the parties.
The Maoists, who have twice as many MPs as the next-largest party in the assembly, are once again asserting their right to lead the next government. Their candidate for prime minister—the widely respected Baburam Bhattarai—says he will only lead a unity government. But the second-largest party, the Nepali Congress, is also claiming the prime minister’s job. There is a struggle within their party over who the candidate should be.
After the prime minister who preceded Mr Khanal, Mr Nepal, resigned last year he remained acting premier for another seven months, while the others struggled to settle on his replacement. On that form Mr Khanal may linger in office for some time yet. The Economist