Worrying signs

Unfortunately, the three biggest political parties have not been able as yet to agree on the allocation of the posts of prime minister and president. The Congress and the CPN-UML are insisting that a single party should not get both because the CPN-Maoist does not have even a simple majority in the Constituent Assembly (CA). But the CPN-Maoist argues that it should have both for reasons, in particular: first, because it is the largest political party in the CA; second, giving either of the executive positions to another party would create two power centres, leading to conflicts, affecting transitional governance and the constitution making process; third, it had projected Prachanda as the country’s next president during the recent election; fourth, the election results do not justify the Congress’s claim to the top post.

The Maoists’ preference was to continue the existing arrangement, under which Girija Prasad Koirala has acted as both head of government and of state. But this is not possible now that the posts of president and vice president have been created through the fourth amendment to the Interim Constitution the same night the republic had been declared implemented. The Maoists have, however, charged that the NC and the CPN-UML held the proclamation of republic hostage to the fulfilment of this demand, thus delaying the first CA meeting by more than ten hours. But what is particularly worrying is the continuation of a government elected by the now defunct legislature-parliament despite the fact that the sovereign Nepali people have elected a new parliament - a situation difficult to call legitimate and which has hardly any precedent in parliamentary democracy in the world. Even more worrying is the claim by some prominent leaders in the NC and the UML - most recently by UML general secretary Jhala Nath Khanal - to the effect that there’s no compulsion for formation of a new government, and these people appear to hold the view that to remove the present prime minister, a two-thirds majority in the CA is required.

This claim is downright wrong and untenable, as this goes against the parliamentary process of government formation and devalues the new sovereign body. Irrespective of the reasonableness or otherwise of the political interests of the NC and UML,

the PM’s refusal to step down unless the CPN-Maoist satisfies their demands is tantamount to using incumbency as a trump card in power sharing negotiations. It is hoped that the political leaders will recognise the crucial importance of understanding and agreement in steering the governing process through the next transitional phase. But a question also arises, if the leaders could not agree on power sharing, say, for the next six months, would this government continue? It is likely that more people will start questioning the legitimacy of this government if a new one is not formed very soon. Neither the Maoists nor the non-Maoists taken together can muster a required two-thirds majority. But the impasse must be broken. If the difference persists, the parties might as well consider the idea of finding a worthy consensus candidate for president from outside the parties represented in the CA.