In Nepal, deciding the winner of a musical chair game is very difficult especially on the political front where international powers seemingly conglomerate to watch it. For instance, it took nearly three weeks for the ball to set rolling from Nepali President Ram Baran Yadav’s office to incumbent Head of Nepal Government Khil Raj Regmi’s Singha Darbar haunt, namely on who should call the first meeting of the CA. In the end, constitutional experts and legal advisers close to the President are known to have advised him that Article 69(1) of the Interim Constitution authorized the Nepali Prime Minister (or head of government) to convene the first CA meeting, the most appropriate step.
Nepal in 2013 went through a state of political turbulence until the November CA election, which was successfully conducted by Interim Head of Government Khil Raj Regmi and his technocratic team. Their apolitical administration guaranteed by a non-challenged and strictly neutral professional security apparatus to deliver the environment for free and fair elections in Nepal. The success of the election was backed by a pool of well established internationally well known poll observers such as the Carter Center and the EU delegates, which adhered to measurable democratic poll observation tools followed by post-monitoring and evaluation tasks that declared it “impartial, free and fair”. As a result, the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML, which had focused their campaigns on rural and middle class families using mostly door-to door low cost campaign techniques, made a huge comeback winning by a big margin leaving the Nepali Maoists (divided vertically now) trailing a distant third, while the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, a reformed democratic legacy of the Panchayat era, made new surge as Nepal’s fourth largest party in the proportional category.
It is the beginning of 2014 and not everyone is happy even within these various winning parties; some of the biggest grievances are within. The insiders lament it all has to do with the manner in which various candidates were nominated, picked or given tickets. Many chose their nearest kin, family members or business community supporters which did not play well with the majority of long time dedicated party members. As a result, some rifts have resurfaced such as within Nepali Congress where all three top leaders Sushil Koirala, Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel were seen making an individual dash to the PM’s chair in Singha Darbar until this week, when Poudel reluctantly decided to give his support to Koirala for the NC’s parliamentary party leader. NC is the biggest party expected to lead the next government, yet true drama prevails within which also bogs the formation of a future Nepal Government. The UML which is more clever on patching national leadership rifts, and often buries its hatchet within Balkhu headquarters, had also new claimants for the President or Prime Minister’s post until last week, despite the SC’s verdict that the current President and Veep would stay until promulgation of the new constitution. UML’s premise is that a new government cannot get its cooperation and will not form until the two positions, namely President and Vice President of Nepal are replaced with their own candidates, or else the new parliamentarians must come to a majority consensus vote. UML is also desirous to head a new government should NC fail in garnering a consensus government in time (which is a difficult guess given the UML’s demands). For instance, It is an openly known secret that Khadga Prasad Oli, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhalnath Khanal and Ishwore Pokhrel were and still are, claimants to be President or Prime Minister, each lobbying hard both nationally and internationally according to reliable top Nepali media sources.
As the second largest party in the CA-Parliament, UML has also floated two or three power sharing models vis-a-vis NC and the Maoists hinged on re-electing the President and Vice President, who both represent the Madhesi community, according to their leadership hierarchy. The President and the VP’s terms ended effectively, according to some prominent Balkhu voices with the dissolving of the first CA by Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai but they somehow managed to hang on in the name of an interim government council formed with subsequent tasking of a CA Poll which, indeed, was held on November 2013. The Madhes parties remain bewildered in this wild card game scenario, opting for the moment to be part of the opposition bench given its collective wait and see stance. The Maoists themselves remain non-committal on power sharing, preferring to stay in the opposition while drafting a new constitution. Pushpa Kumar Dahal has had to bear the brunt of all major losses the Maoists suffered in the recent CA Poll, the major reason being fielding relatively unknown faces in comparison to NC and UML’s well established heavy weight candidates in most urban locations and in the politically sensitive Central, Mid-West and Eastern region. But still the Maoist leadership is committed to helping write a new democratic constitution if it is drafted within a year, something Sushil Koirala from NC has promised the Maoists in exchange for NC heading a new government. The Maoists former brainstorming papers on ethno-federalism now gather dust at Paris Danda.
The RPP Nepal, in turn, has indicated its role as a constructive future opposition party, not afraid to speak up its mind on the place of monarchy in a new constitutional framework. Their close relationship with BJP, whereby early poll predictions show it garnering a landslide majority vote in India in the upcoming elections, give strong ground for revival or recognition of a Hindu monarchy in Nepal. BJP is a Hindu nationalist party having middle and rural class support in India and was unhappy with the consequences of Jan Andolan-2 whereby ex-King Gyanendra stepped down to the political parties pressure making way for a Nepali democratic republic.
With all these mixed party agendas, what is in store for Nepal’s future Constituent Assembly turned Parliament, the second one after five years? For now, 26 nominated members are yet to named, and it is not clear who they will represent, the ex-bureau-technocratic-army-police lot, the professional bodies such as bankers, industrialists, tourism entrepreneurs, lawyers, engineers, doctors and the like, or else janjatis, women and other under privileged segments of society. Similarly, it is unclear on when an actual government will be formed under NC’s leadership, since geo-political influences are already rife and bearing down heavily on key political players to produce results. It is not even clear on how future constitutional appointments such as ambassadors and heads of various constitutional bodies will be made(before it all used to be political appointments in the majority!) or whether formerly dormant but now revived constitutional bodies such as the CIAA will be allowed to play an effective role in future, as some senior politicians are known to be under its scanner. It is also not certain whether Nepali politics will be the same again, as the future CA-Parliament is already tasked with a heavy challenge by the Nepali media, civil society watch groups, human rights activists and the like to produce a publicly vetted Nepali constitution within one year. One month has already gone by with little or no achievement so far, and the CA-Parliament meeting should have been ideally called within one month of the election results being made public, and a majority government formed soon thereafter. With more than two months gone, it is simply puzzling, even when Khil Raj Regmi and his techno team have repeatedly shown their readiness to hand over the reins of the government to a successor, no single Nepali leader or political party has come forward to claim it!
One thing is clear, Nepali politicians in the majority are good at making false promises, seldom fulfilling them. Yet, Khil Raj Regmi as an unseasoned politician with a technocratic blend of ministers and full backing of Nepal’s bureaucracy fulfilled almost every promise he made to the average Nepali.
Somehow, the international donor community still believes there is light at the end of Nepal’s democratic tunnel and that development activities will now bear concrete fruit once the new Constitution is written. But the CA must be tasked to fulfil them, integrating some of the donors’ core development action plans submitted to the National Planning Commission, particularly in expanding the energy and hydropower generation sector, tourism and road works, and agricultural regeneration to get the country’s industries and production base moving again. Foreign investment must be opened up more aggressively with long term concessions particularly from the Asian neighbourhood since there is international interest in making Nepal a viable free economic trade zone.
As way of encouragement, first and foremost, Non Resident Nepali investors must be given tax incentives and dual citizenship to encourage their service to Nepal, even if it is for short project work so they can develop a confidence in investing in Nepal. One must commend Australian millionaire and die-hard pro-Nepal investment advocate Shesh Ghale and his team heading the current NRNA setup globally, that finally a reliable business plan is taking shape to help Nepal with Non-Resident Nepali financial and technical assistance. Relying solely on Nepali migrant remittances from abroad to offset the Balance of Payment deficits will not benefit Nepali people in the long run. People like Shesh must be given more serious attention by the Nepal Government, especially when it comes to developing Nepali entrepreneurship and business acumen from within.
Similarly, Nepal’s newly elected leaders must accept that Nepal has a strong corps of talented, educated, young and energetic professionals who often go abroad to find their first job. Many of them head back to Nepal after a few years, including many bright kids educated here in the United States, but often give up frustrated that they cannot open their own businesses, or find the right professional network, environment or bureaucratic support to channelize their dreams for Nepal. Alternatively, it is time the new CA turned Parliament tap on a collective pool of innovative ideas that will serve as a spring board for Nepali development from such young energetic minds instead of wasting time on inter-party politicking as happened before. It would be helpful if Nepali politicians worked to make the CA-Parliament the hotbed of Nepali democracy and development, not the hot seat of inter-party conspiracies which was the reason why ex-Prime Minister Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai had to take the extra-ordinary step of dissolving the previous one and calling for fresh CA Polls. When will Nepal’s politicians leave the constitution drafting drama behind, come up with an actual draft and stand up to fulfilling the Nepali people’s development aspirations? The time is NOW. This is an appropriate period of time for Nepal’s politicians to collectively reflect on the people’s visions for peace, development, security and long term economic prosperity and deliver on them just like Khil Raj Regmi did within a short span of one year as a mere Interim Head of Government.