Nepali political drama Deuba’s reappointment and tasks ahead

Ajit N S Thapa

In the ever unfolding Nepali political drama, the climax was reached when the King reappointed Sher Bahadur Deuba (who had been unceremoniously sacked 20 months ago for failing to hold elections on time), although Deuba was not one of the motley crowd of 31 people who had applied for the post of prime minister as per the deadline set by the palace, on June 2 under Article 127 of the Constitution. This has ended nearly a month-long hiatus created by the resignation of Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa. Deuba’s NC(D) had held separate protest programmes with the single point agenda of demanding his reinstatement, status quo ante October 4, 2002. The palace notification clearly mentions that in deference to the wishes of the sovereign people, Deuba had been reappointed prime minister and would enjoy executive powers as per Article 35 of the Constitution and was also mandated with the setting up of an all-party government to negotiate a peace settlement with the Maoists and commence general elections by mid April 2005.

While this has been largely welcomed by most political parties (including the CPN-UML, the most important constituent of the anti-regression five party alliance), the Nepali Congress (NC) and its other smaller coalition members see this as a continuation of regression and feel that the reappointment of Deuba is not any different from the appointments of Chand and Thapa and have declared that their anti-regression campaign would continue with greater gusto and vigour. The CPN-UML has taken Deuba’s reappointment as a partial victory of the anti-regression movement since sovereignty and executive authority has been restored to the people. It is seriously debating on whether to join the Deuba-led government or support it from outside. In all possibilities, the party will join the government with certain conditions based on a common minimum programme in consonance with its nine-point road map.

While the debate on whether Deuba’s reappointment puts the constitution back on track or not may go on ad infinitum, it is clear that the King has stepped forward and extended a hand of cooperation to the parties in an effort to right the wrong committed by him. The King has shown wisdom in finally relenting to the pressure of political parties and the international community to hand over power and work with political parties to save the nation from collapse. To begin with, Deuba’s most challenging task is to form an all-party government (comprising of ministers of most of the parties in the dissolved House of Representatives) and in this, the participation of the CPN-UML would be the most crucial factor.

The most important task of the new government would be to restore peace and security in the nation that has been traumatised by eight years of violence, killings and destruction. In this process, the government must bring the Maoists to the negotiating table without further ado. It is gratifying to know that the prime minister has already initiated this process through the media and human rights organisations. The conflict cannot be resolved through military means by either side, and therefore, the government should take proactive measures to bring the Maoists for peace dialogue. It is also important to review why negotiations have failed in the past. Past talks have failed because the two parties stuck to their own agendas. In future, the government must discuss the well-publicised Maoist agenda of minimum demand: Round table conference, formation of an interim government that includes Maoists and elections for the Constituent Assembly to draft a new Constitution. Since the time that the Deuba government first negotiated with the Maoists three years ago, there has been a sea change in the political and economic environment.

What is wrong with the election of a Constituent Assembly (free and fair under the auspices of the United Nations), if it can genuinely resolve all conflicts and restore peace? In these times, our main political actors — the King, parties and Maoists — must be guided by national interest and we should accept the challenge put up by the Maoists and agree to hold elections for the Constituent Assembly. The subsequent important task of the new government would be to hold a national political conference including the Maoists (if they are willing to declare ceasefire and lay down their arms). The conference could adopt an agenda, which inter alia, could include: Referendum on Constituent Assembly versus constitutional reforms; Constituent Assembly; role of the King; changes in the present Constitution; the special status of women, Dalits, Janajaties and Madhesis with a view to bring about dramatic social transformation; the role of the international community in resolving our on-going national conflict; the integration of Maoists into civil society and the army and rehabilitation of victims of Maoist insurgency. Such a conference would also provide us an opportunity to do some real soul searching on our past and present working experience with democracy and enable us to chart out a road map for peace, security and prosperity of our beautiful country. We are confident that the King will rise to the occasion, once again, and extend every cooperation and support to implement the decisions of the conference in the highest interest of the nation. Thapa is a Mahasamiti Member, NC (D).

Conflict cannot be resolved through military means. The government should take measures to bring Maoists for talks.