Need of the moment

A consensus government appears unlikely, though the CPN-Maoist has circulated its 50-point proposal for the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) for such a government among all the 24 political parties in the Constituent Assembly (CA). This exercise is going on because the Interim Constitution (IC) gives first preference to the formation of a consensus government, but the IC remains silent on what exactly ‘political consensus’ constitutes, or who is to judge whether such consensus has been reached, after the deletion from the IC of the provision of seven-party agreement. According to the Constitution, President Dr Ram Baran Yadav last Tuesday invited the CPN-Maoist, the single largest party, to form a consensus government. The Constitution does not specify that the largest party is to undertake the job of building consensus; however, the President’s call may be said to be line with the practice followed in many parliamentary democracies.

The political parties may come up with their views on, with suggestions for refining, the draft today or tomorrow. But in his immediate reaction after the 25-party meeting on Saturday, Nepali Congress spokesman Arjun Narsing KC said the Maoist proposal ‘cannot be acceptable’. However, it would be advisable for the NC to suggest improvements. The impression that has gained ground considerably in recent days is that a powerful section in the Nepali Congress is in favour of forming a majority government under Congress leadership. The impression the 25-party meetings have given in recent days is that the NC is not clear about accepting Maoist leadership. The definition of ‘consensus’ will come to a test if all the other parties except the NC (or plus one or two more) agree to support a ‘consensus’ government. Controversy can well arise.

Just as the IC is mum on who is to take the initiative to forge political consensus, it is similarly silent on who should get the priority to form a government with a majority of 50%-plus one vote if the consensus bid fails? By the way the President has called on the Maoists to make an attempt at consensus government, the single largest party should get the first chance for the second option too. As the IC does not authorise the President to ask any party to try to form a government, it may therefore well be argued that if the single largest party, instead of obtaining an undefined ‘consensus’, manages to muster majority, can the President, or anybody else, challenge this on the grounds that he asked for consensus government? As the CPN-UML, the third largest party, finds itself in a swing position to make or break a government, what it decides becomes crucial. Its leaders are currently stressing a consensus government, including the NC, but they have not spoken their minds on what next if the consensus bid fails? Will the UML back up the Maoists or the Congress, or try to push for its own candidate for Premiership under a non-Maoist coalition of parties? The desirability or otherwise of each of the possibilities apart, the overriding need is for the country to have a government with a fresh mandate? A caretaker government with an expired mandate cannot go on further.