Political crisis Options before the King

Aditya Man Shrestha

What next? Who next? That is the question thrown up by the resignation of Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa. The answer is wide open and will remain so for a week or so. It is clear that the Maoists remain where they are and the political workers continue to demonstrate in the streets. The King, on his part, retains the key to the state authority under Article 127 of the constitution. We are in the same critical situation today as we were yesterday. In that sense, the resignation of Premier Thapa has affected no fundamental change in the political realities.

The only change it has brought about is the removal of a roadblock towards the possible talks between the Monarch and the five political parties. That too looks like a hanging fire. The Thapa government fulfilled all preconditions set by the political parties for such talks. Accordingly, it released all detainees held up during the current agitation and lifted the prohibitory orders in downtown Kathmandu. It, in fact, moved out graciously from the scene to make room for others to get in.

Will the proposed talks between the King and the five parties combined be held? If so, when? The initial deadline set by the palace is already over. The political leaders cannot barge in the palace for talks when they like. But the parties have ruled out the possibility of separate meetings. There might be none given the subtle message underlying the recent palace communiqué looking around for a new candidate for premiership. The communiqué has set three qualifications, or, say, conditions for being appointed as the prime minister of Nepal. Firstly, he/she should have clean image. Secondly, he/she should be prepared to start the process of general elections within the year 2061. Thirdly, he/she should be able to convince all political parties to join in the new government.

The parties, in turn, have spelled out their agenda for holding the still uncertain talks. Firstly, the King should be prepared to accept a candidate for next prime minister as recommended by the combined five parties. Secondly, he should agree to the restoration of constitutional process with the explicit implication that the dead parliament be revived. Thirdly, the sovereign power should be returned to the people as proclaimed in the constitution. It is thus clear that the three royal conditions are far removed from the other three conditions of the political parties. No sensible observer can imagine any meeting of mind or mutual agreement between these two centres of political power. Although both belong to the

so-called constitutional forces, there is no meeting point seen between them given their current public postures.

What is the best thing to do under the present circumstances? The first best move is to call for a round-table conference of all political parties including the Maoists under the chairmanship of the King. Many issues need to be crystallised before a national reconciliation is achieved. We have been emphasising the informal talks among them for this purpose. Simply forming a new government with a new face is no solution to the fundamental problems of this country. It may take weeks or months. However, time is no constraint if a solution can be worked out in such a national conference.

The second best thing for the King to do is to invite the seven political parties (the combined five, RPP and Nepali Congress, NC-D) and ask them to recommend a consensus candidate for premiership. The political parties should also be asked to make a pledge to abide by the constitution, hold the national elections within a certain timeframe and open talks with the Maoists with immediate ceasefire. A set of do’s and don’ts can be agreed for the functioning of this kind of conglomerate government.

The third best thing for the King to do is to call upon the five political parties to forward a consensus candidate to form a new government with a mandate of protecting the constitution, holding the elections and negotiations with the Maoists. In case of failure on the part of the political parties to do so, he can go ahead acting in his discretion in the selection of the person for the post of prime minister.

The fourth best thing for the King is to listen to the suggestions made by a group of prominent women who had the privilege of having an audience with the King. They want a woman prime minister appointed by the King to resolve the constitutional as well as extra-constitutional crises of the country. As we have qualified and experienced women in all walks of life they should be given an opportunity in the governance of the country at a critical time. There is no constitutional hitch in forming an all-women government under Article 127.

The women will have an added advantage of fulfilling all the royal conditions of enjoying a clean image, pledging to hold elections within a year and representing all political parties. The political parties should have no objection in letting their women members participating in the new government because that would meet a part of their demands. As their full demands are not likely to be fulfilled given the current political circumstances, it would be pragmatic for them to concede to the suggestions of the women group that, in fact, is representative of all shades of opinions and all walks of life. Shrestha is the coordinator, Volunteer Mediators Group