An all-party government King’s terms and role of parties

Ajit N S Thapa

Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa resigned a week ago amidst mounting pressure for his resignation from agitating and non-agitating political parties. However, the street demonstrations (which have at times turned anti-King and violent) continue unabated. The five party alliance led my NC and CPM-UML have vowed to adopt a double pronged strategy of simultaneously negotiating with the King and to continue with the protests demanding the restoration of the constitutional process and return of sovereignty to the people. The NC (D) has also joined the protest fray and is launching non-violent protest rallies demanding the restoration of S B Deuba ex-ante October 4, 2002. While the palace and the political parties confront each other (mostly centred around the Kathmandu Valley), the Maoists are marauding the countryside, collecting tolls, running a parallel government and causing death and destruction in an escalating manner.

In the process of forming a new government, the Monarch has given terms of reference (TOR) for the next premier — should have a clean image, should be able to unite most political parties under a common banner and be able to commence general election by 2061 BS. While the TOR itself looks innocuous on its own, most parties see a hidden agenda behind it and have started to question the source of authority for such a diktat from a constitutional monarch. Such lack of trust between these two important forces is indeed unfortunate. In fact, the two should be united to take on the Maoists and force them to come to the negotiating table. The King has stared the process of consultation with the political parties, on a one by one basis. However, leaders of the five political parties have refused to meet him on an individual basis and have asked for a meeting with the group itself. In the prevailing political quagmire, the King would be wise to relent to such a request and should also broaden the scope of consultation by inviting other political leaders to discuss the current crisis within a group framework. It is important that the King clarifies his current and future role and assures the agitating and other parties of his intention to hand over all executive authority to the all-party government to be led by a person recommended by them. By and large, most political parties have so far been disciplined and have shown restraints while conducting their protest programmes.

Had not the government cordoned off a large part of the city as restricted areas, much of the stone throwing and anti-King sloganeering could have been avoided. Demonstrations have been visibly more peaceful once the prohibited zones were opened up for protest marches. The resignation by the PM has provided an excellent opportunity for both the King and the political parties to work together to resolve the current political imbroglio. The first step is obviously the formation of an all-party government on their recommendation.

Can the parties come up with a near consensus candidate for PM? It is an irony that the five party alliance seeks to stake a monopoly claim on the formation of the new government. While it is true that this combine did spearhead the protest activities, it doesn’t necessarily give it absolute and undisputed authority on formation of the new government. The five-party alliance has always prioritised its demand on the restoration of the House of Representatives. Translated into operational terms, it would mean that the PM would be decided by the members on their strength in the house. The ground reality today is that no single party (after the split of the Nepali Congress) can claim to have majority.

Under these circumstances, a majority-backed PM candidate can only emerge through a coalition of two or more major parties. Political parties need to work together to nominate a common candidate and deprive the King of making his own nomination by default in case the parties fail to recommend a common PM candidate, then the King would do well to either appoint S B Deuba as PM (as such a move would not only have the backing of most political parties but would also put the constitution back on track), or alternatively, he could also make a political decision using Article 127 of the constitution and restore the House, which would then automatically choose a new PM. The most viable way of resolving the issue of PM selection would be to adopt the methods outlined above.

The need of the hour is to bring the Maoists to the negotiating table with a view to achieving lasting internal peace and security. The would-be all-powerful new government should chart out a new road map to deal with them and to bring about the much debated constitutional and socio-economic reforms. Towards this end, it would be imperative for the new government to convene a national conference of political parties, palace representatives, Dalits, Jana-jaatis, Madhesis, religious leaders, women, professional society, media, civil society and the Maoists (if they are prepared to lay down arms), whose major task would be to take a decisive stand on the issue of constituent assembly. At this juncture, the King’s enlightened and proactive role is most crucial. He should rise to the occasion making a paradigm shift in his current strategy and lead all involved to work for national interest and save the nation from collapsing into a “failed” state. Thapa is a Mahasamiti member, NC(D)