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Nepal 2010: Uncertainties Galore

Nihar R Nayak is Research Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • January 10, 2011

    The year 2010 was another disappointing year for the people of Nepal. The peace process was deadlocked, with extreme polarization within and among the political parties on various issues. Despite the extension of the Constituent Assembly (CA) for a year, the parties could not complete even the rudimentary task of drafting a new constitution. The blame for this unsettled state of affairs was conveniently heaped on the so-called external forces. The only silver lining in the dark clouds was the high-level task force headed by UCPN-Maoist leader Prachanda, which resolved around 100 out of 220 contentious issues, and the formation of the Army Integration Special Committee (AISC) secretariat.

    Throughout the year, the major political parties undertook a number of initiatives to resolve the deadlock. A high level political mechanism (HLPM) was initiated on January 8, 2010 under the leadership of the late G.P. Koirala. His death on March 20 brought the HLPM to a halt. The Maoists announced an indefinite nationwide strike from May 2, after a number of inconclusive dialogues with other parties. After prolonged discussions, the Maoists entered into a three-point agreement with the other political parties on May 28 to extend the tenure of the CA for one year. The differences between the political parties widened further with Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s resignation on June 30. There have been sixteen rounds of elections to form a new government since July 21, but no candidate has been able to attain a simple majority in the CA.

    It was difficult to generate consensus among the three main political parties on the issues of PLA integration, restructuring of the country, and formation of a consensus government. The factionalism within the parties and greed for power among the leaders came to the fore and hobbled the process of negotiations. The leaders were seen to be changing their positions in each meeting according to the internal situation within their parties. Interestingly, the ideological differences amongst the Maoist leaders on the future political line of the party surfaced in the Standing Committee meeting on January 27, 2010; some advocated negotiation, while others rooted for people’s revolution if the negotiation would not go in their favour. This widened the gulf of distrust between the Maoists and other major political parties and affected the process of reconciliation.

    Moreover, the lack of response from the government on the Maoist demands fuelled the suspicions of the Maoist hardliners who claimed that national and international “reactionaries” were acting not to let the constitution be promulgated on May 28. The Maoist Standing Committee thus decided on March 29 to act against the “reactionaries” and intensify political dialogue with other parties.

    During this period, there was an intense effort by the UML chairman, Jhalanath Khanal, to form a national unity government to write the constitution, but the party was divided on the issue; for example, Madhav Kumar Nepal, the Prime Minister, opposed the idea. As uncertainty loomed large on the future of the peace process, the Maoists announced on April 6 the start of a new round of protests demanding civilian supremacy, national integrity and timely constitution-drafting and peace in the country. The Maoists and some factions in the UML criticized the government as being ‘remotely controlled’ by New Delhi.

    However, despite these differences, major political parties hurriedly entered into a three-point agreement on May 28 to extend the term of the CA for one year. Later, this agreement was interpreted differently by different parties, which resulted in the delay in the resignation of Prime Minister. The Maoists as well as other opposition parties refused to cooperate with the government in passing the budget. The ruling party, UML, was also divided on the issue, which compelled Madhav Kumar Nepal to resign on June 30.

    Following his resignation, the President asked political parties to form a consensus government within seven days; but consensus proved elusive. The UML and NC refused to support a Maoist-led government until the Maoists implemented all past agreements. They suspected that if Maoists came to power without dismantling the PLA and YCL (Young Communist League), it could result in their capturing power for ever; the Maoists vacillated on the issue because they wished to let the PLA continue to be as a political insurance.

    As the deadline to form a consensus government expired on July 12, the President directed parliament to elect a majority government. The first round of elections for the Prime Minister’s post on July 21 ended inconclusively. Since then fifteen rounds of elections have taken place until November 19, 2010, without any results. The Maoists have boycotted the elections but they have not formally withdrawn their candidate, for which constitutionally the process has to go on until either one of the candidates secures the majority vote or all the parties decide to amend the interim constitution and initiate a different procedure.

    The political deadlock has adversely affected Nepal’s economy and development. The budget of 2010/11 was delayed for more than four months. The governance system has virtually collapsed. Extortion by armed groups and frequent strikes by ethnic groups and small parties have affected life all around. The security situation in Terai and eastern Nepal remains fragile due to the strong presence of armed groups. There has been mounting public pressure on the parties to end the present deadlock.

    The deadlock, however, seems far from over. The NC has decided not to withdraw its candidate from the prime ministerial race until the integration issue is resolved. Since November 2010, the parties have been meeting on a number of occasions to resolve the deadlock, but to no avail. The Maoists have shown flexibility on some issues and proposed workable plans on government formation, but the prejudices of the NC and some leaders in the UML have foiled these efforts.

    Despite Maoist flexibility, they are yet to abandon their dual policy — of joining the democratic process on the one hand and retaining the option of restarting people’s war on the other — which was visible in their sixth plenum on November 21. The party is yet to reconcile the internal differences and finalize its political line after Prachanda’s resignation in May 2009.

    As the CA deadline (May 28, 2011) draws nearer, the Maoists perhaps realise that they would be the biggest losers if the new constitution is not promulgated on time. The Maoists appear eager to resume the regular session of Parliament which was prorogued after Maoist lawmakers assaulted the Finance Minister during the budget presentation on November 19. The Maoists do not seem to favour President’s Rule because they are not sure of better results in any forthcoming elections at this juncture.

    The next session of the CA is due to begin from January 9, 2011. The unresolved issues are likely to come back for detailed discussion again in the new year. This session would be interesting because the Maoists have agreed to the appointment of the chief of the AISC secretariat. It will also be a testing time for the NC and UML to use this issue to remain in power. The UML’s decision to support a majority government may split the party itself. The Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party (TMLP) has already formally split on December 31, 2010. The second challenging task would be the parties’ commitment to the peace process and restraining from violence in the absence of UNMIN after January 16. The Maoists are not very happy with UNMIN’s withdrawal. They have also expressed their displeasure about the AISC secretariat’s five phases of rehabilitation plan. Given all this, the first half of 2011 will be critical for the future polity of Nepal.