What’s next?

At long last, the process of government formation has been set in motion, with President Dr Ram Baran Yadav calling upon the CPN-Maoist to form a new Council of Ministers by forging political consensus. At last, too, caretaker Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala is flying to Colombo to attend the 15th SAARC summit scheduled for Saturday and Sunday (August 2-3), despite widespread concerns about the propriety for a Prime Minister whose resignation has already been accepted to represent the country at an important international forum like SAARC. The host and other member nations should have no problems about his participation. But such representation will hardly convey a fresh message, or carry full political authority. It has been argued by Koirala supporters that a change of the head of the delegation or postponement of the summit at the last moment would give a negative impression about Nepal. But the summit is the result of long planning and consultation. Even at this late stage, the idea of sending the President to Colombo has been powerfully suggested by some. Moreover, the caretaker government’s decision on participation without consulting the major parties contains a large element of arbitrariness and reflects a blissful obliviousness of its constitutionally and politically feeble status.

This invitation is all the more important in light of the strange fact that the country has not had a new government even sixteen weeks after the election, and nine weeks after the convening of the first meeting, of the Constituent Assembly. The Interim Constitution has two provisions for the making of a government - a consensus government or a government based on a majority of 50% plus one vote. The first priority for government formation has been rightly given to the single largest party. What, however, may lengthen the process is the wording of the invitation, by which the Maoists have been asked to form a consensus government within seven days. The question may also arise as to how many parties or which parties out of the 25 represented in the CA must agree to support the Maoists to meet the definition of consensus. Congress leaders have been saying for quite some time that the Congress will not join a Cabinet headed by the CPN-Maoist. This makes it unlikely that a consensus will emerge.

The lack of consensus, in turn, will mean that the President may give a fresh invitation to the CPN-Maoist to form a majority government, or, in the absence of a consensus, he may make a general invitation to the parties or CA members to try to form a majority government. If the former course is chosen, another week will be unnecessarily lost. It would have been better if the President had asked the Maoists to form a consensus government, or failing that, a majority one. If the Maoists fail in either course, the other parties should get the opportunity to try to put together a coalition. But as things stand, a majority government seems to be on the cards.

The latest reports hint at the CPN-UML tying up with the CPN-M, but where alliances are made or broken easily and at the last moment, nothing can be taken for granted.