Old habits die hard

The seven-party alliance — particularly the Nepali Congress, the Nepali Congress (Democratic) and the CPN (UML) — have sent wrong signals to the people by quarrelling over the distribution of portfolios at a time when the mass movement has installed them in power in order to hold the elections to the constituent assembly (CA) to draft a people’s constitution. At last, a seven-member cabinet was formed yesterday amid public warnings and talk of horse-trading the partners are engaged in, even when the spilt blood of the martyrs and those injured for the cause of democracy has not dried up yet. Delay in cabinet formation means delay in speeding up things to carry out the Jana Andolan’s mandate. The Maoists have already lifted the blockade of the district headquarters and declared a unilateral ceasefire to ‘create a conducive atmosphere’. The Girija Prasad Koirala government has yet to match it with its ceasefire, withdrawal of the terrorist tag and Red Corner notices, as well as release of Maoists in detention. Then it will have to hold talks with the Maoists and smooth the way to the CA polls.

The real test of the government will come during its negotiations with the Maoists who are likely to insist on an interim government and an interim constitution and certain other things in the lead-up to the CA polls. Therefore, the present members of the Council of Ministers will work only as a stopgap arrangement, if the alliance, in cooperation with the Maoists, is to restore peace and consolidate democracy through CA. This reality also stresses the need for the size of the present ministry to be considerably smaller than the 21-member team that is reported to be on the cards now. The general public has started wondering, given the partners’ bickerings over the loaves and fishes of office, whether they have changed at all despite the four years of buffeting they have received.

As the date-expired House of Representatives (HoR) has come to life again on the sheer strength of the mass movement with the mandate to hold the unconditional CA polls, the bickering partners ought to know that they cannot go merely by the numbers of seats they held in the House before it was dissolved. But even judging by this criterion, no single party holds a majority in the House since Sher Bahadur Deuba hived away from the Nepali Congress to form the NC-D. In numerical strength, the Koirala-led Congress and the CPN-UML are now more or less evenly balanced. Here, the paradox is that the Congress, which has been given the post of the Prime Minister in the first place, is, rather unfairly, insisting on having the lion’s share, including the ‘cream’ portfolios. This reflects negatively on Prime Minister Koirala, 84, who has been expected to display statesmanship — a quality he was not widely perceived to have shown before — at this critical juncture in history, after what has happened all these years.