Strange bedfellows

The fact that ‘caretaker’ Prime Minister and head of state Girija Prasad Koirala on Saturday invited Maoist chairman Prachanda to take the initiative to form the post-election government of consensus. The Maoists have taken this belated gesture as a positive sign, at a time when the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML have laid down conditions for cooperation with the CPN-Maoist in government formation, and Koirala has sent out signals that he wants to play a role, ‘that of seeing to the writing of the constitution’. Differences persist over the ‘conditions’, but the political parties must not allow these to affect other immediate tasks before the CA, particularly the implementation of the republic declaration.

Insistence on fulfilment of the new conditions thought of after the poll outcome will only constitute a further liability to the public image of the Congress and the CPN-UML, because this goes against the spirit of consensus that lies at the heart of the peace process and transitional governance. If the Maoists do not agree to meet these various conditions, the parties will have either to support Maoist leadership of government or to attempt to form a government without the Maoists. The latter option would be highly unlikely to materialise, because all the other parties put together would not still be able to muster a two-thirds majority in the legislature necessary to elect or remove prime minister. That is why these parties have been making a point of amending the Interim Constitution to require just a bare majority to make or break a government.

While the life of the CA is two years — and it could be further shortened by readying the constitution in less time — the demand for bare majority has only made the Maoists and others suspicious that these other parties intend to bring down a Maoist-led government before that. It is also worth considering that if the CPN-M does not oblige, asking them instead to form the next government, the other parties will not be able to do so, as they will still need the Maoist vote. What would happen then? Could they ask the people to elect a new CA again? The CA is not intended for this. Moreover, the defeated parties or the old

government would have no such authority, as after the CA convenes its first meeting, the old government will have no legal basis for representing the new legislature. Government formation is not some favour that can be granted or withheld at anybody’s discretion. Though it had slightly more seats than either the CPN-UML or the CPN-Maoist in the pre-poll legislature — before the merger of the Deuba Congress — the NC still kept the post of head of government, functions of head of state, as well as the three most ‘powerful’ ministries, among others. In fairness and to smooth the rest of the political transition, therefore, the parties’ relative numerical position in the CA should provide a rough guide for power sharing. Trying to rewrite them midway would only spoil the game. However, all may end well, as the political parties cannot afford to part ways at this juncture. They will have to complete the rest of the peace process together.