Ram S. Mahat

A PM who was dismissed once for his inability to hold election on time has to prove that he can do the job.

The country’s politics has taken a new turn after Deuba was appointed Prime Minister. This has led to realignment of the political equation within. The Communist Party of Nepal (UML) has termed the new development as a partial correction of the regression of October 4, and is readying to join the Deuba government, leaving the street movement now to the remaining four parties. The establishment side of the RPP will also join the government, while the faction led by Thapa is likely to oppose; the rumour is Thapa may start another party. The NSP led by Badri Mandal which was left in the lurch for about a year is also likely share the loaves and fishes of the new arrangement.

For a man who was unceremoniously sacked by the King about a year and half ago for ‘incompetence,’ Deuba must be satisfied. The appointment has restored his personal honour — a matter of importance for any individual of self-respect. Therefore, it is understandable on his part to claim that the constitutional process has been restored, although he himself had declared a few weeks ago that he would never accept the Prime Ministership under Article 127 which the King has been using at his personal discretion. In fact, he was blaming leaders like G P Koirala and Madhav Nepal for being eager to be a King-nominated PM under Article 127. Ironically, he has become a nominated PM. While Deuba’s claim is understandable for personal reason, the CPN (UML), which was fighting for full restoration of the constitutional process in the formation of a cabinet answerable to parliament through the revival of the House of Representatives (HoR), dubbing it as ‘restoration’ is rather unfortunate. By saying so, they are tacitly providing legitimacy to the practice of making and unmaking of a PM by the King.

The terms of reference given to the new PM by the King is to form a broad-based government and start election within this Nepali year. For a political party which was insisting until a month back that it’s none of the King’s business to decide what a representative government should or should not do, to join the new government now that has a King-defined job description is equally intriguing. Equally interesting is the divergence between the government’s mandate and the utterances of the participating parties. These parties, one after another, are announcing their grandiose 15-point, 25-point and 55-point programme for implementation. Meetings are reported to be held individually, bilaterally, and even trilaterally to arrive at the so-called Common Minimum Programme (CMP) with such high sounding phrases like “progressive constitutional reforms”, “ laying the foundation for socio-economic transformation”, “development of federal structure” and what not. The PM himself spoke at length to the nation practically covering every issue relating from peace and development to investment and foreign policy. It sounded more like a speech in parliament by a newly elected PM on his government’s policy and programme.

If one had been honest to the new government’s job description, the agenda would focus on the time-bound plan to create enabling atmosphere for election, and to hold it in a free and fair manner. An election government, by its nature, is not supposed to take any decision of long-term implication. There is, of course, a valid point made by CPN (UML) that there can be no election in the near future in view of the security situation, and therefore, the emphasis should be on settling the Maoist problem and not on the election. If one really believes so and that the Maoist issue will take time to settle, then there is no moral reason for them to join a government whose sole mandate is to hold the election within a defined time frame. A PM who was dismissed once for his inability to hold election on time has to prove that he can do the job. The self-contradictory posture is also reflected in the fact that one undeclared reason to join the government is to derive maximum advantage in the coming election. In fact, the main objective for some now is to benefit from the Congress division and to keep Nepali Congress at bay. The skimming of cream for electoral advantage does not stop here. There will be a fight for important ministries, followed by transfer and appointment of personnel. Now there is a proposal for reviving the local bodies to fill up the political void at the local level. Since the revival would largely benefit the UML, the other participants who would like to share the benefits are opposed to it. There is also a moral problem related to this. Revival of local bodies would give ammunition to the agitating parties. If local bodies can be restored, why not the HoR? Therefore, a new formula seems to have been mooted. The local bodies will now be filled by parties’ nominees who participate in the government. At every level, there will be an executive of nominees sans a legislative entity. What a mockery of the democratic process?

All these make the promise of holding a free and fair election is not only hollow, but also dishonest. The nation is embroiled is a messy political situation. As the latest royal action has not resolved the constitutional issue, the political division continues with no respite from street agitation. Nothing short of the full restoration of the dissolved House and a truly representative government would offer a solution in bringing all constitutional forces on board to deal with the difficult situation.

Dr Mahat is a Congress CWC member