NC president Sushil Koirala had emerged as the sole candidate for the prime minister's chair with the victory of his party. But, as anticipated widely by the Nepali media, the newly elected Parliamentary Party leader of CPN (UML), K.P Sharma Oli in his first press statement made it obvious that his party was ready to form a new majority based government if the NC failed. After all, the CPN-UML had been floating two separate proposals, as part of its indirect multi-pronged approach to government formation vis-à-vis one to the Nepali Congress as the largest party in the new CA Parliament; and the second to the CPN-Maoist which has shown its preference to stay in the Opposition Bench. CPN-UML had even approached the Rastriya Prjatantra Party, which is known to be counting on BJP’s possible landslide win in India’s upcoming elections which could buttress its own position. Nepal’s political scenario remains truly perplexing even for seasoned senior leaders who lead the various parties in the new CA-Parliament on who is going to lead and who will be led. Thus, even versatile foreign diplomats with commendable networking with Nepali leaders fail to understand some of the intricacies of current Nepali politics.
However the belying truth is with nearly three months gone after the November 19 CA Poll results, the international community seems to be viewing the Regmi government as a blessing in disguise, though Regmi ji has repeatedly asked the political parties to take over the national leadership now. The general view among the international community is that an uncertain and divided coalition based new Nepal Government could adversely affect their valuable donor contributions in enhancing Nepali development and thus stymie results leading to increased political corruption as in the past. Thus, international power politics has reached its highest watermark in Kathmandu in finding a suitable replacement to the Regmi Government, as both Beijing and New Delhi seek to visibly improve their grasp around the new Nepali leadership, while the U.S. and the G-8, based on the recent remarks of the United Kingdom’s Minister for International Development, Alan Duncan in his post-Nepal visit scenario, seem to be hinged on pushing for rapid economic progress and making the fruits of Nepal’s democratic gains visible and enjoyable to the Nepali people, all tied to democratic stability and fulfilling the aspirations of the Nepali people for peace, security and overall balanced growth and development.
In fact, according to some in Nepal’s trustworthy media circles, CPN-UML’s new Parliamentary Party Leader K.P. Oli’s offer to Nepali Congress Sushil Koirala can be considered a serpentine overture. The Nepali Congress too knows within, based on past NC-UML government coalition failures, that it benefitted the CPN-UML more than itself. Late Girija Prasad Koirala was in fact known to have compared the UML leadership to snake charmers enticing Nepali Congress leaders to various coalition partnership positions but without any benefit to NC’s own public image. Some particularly in the disenchanted Deuba faction are all too eager to field NC ministerial candidates as this is their best grasp to national influence. However, this time too, Oli has shown his party’s leadership is ready to take the reins of the new Nepal Government should the Nepali Congress fail to muster one given divided opinion on Sushil Koirala’s lack of prior experience in steering a Nepal Government. But according to one of NC’s vocal leaders Dr. Minendra Rijal, a consensus based, if not a majority oriented government would be in place by February 11. In any case, it is unlikely with the date passed, that the CPN-Maoists or the RPP will be swayed into a presumptive NC-led government, but there is chance that the political equation might change drastically if the CPN-UML which is known to be more Beijing oriented, decides to take the lead over failed NC efforts even on a majority government bid. In particular, the tripartite competition and time delay in selecting a new leader, namely the Parliamentary Party leadership competition between Sushil Koirala, Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel, the latter who backed Koirala at the last moment, hurt NC’s public image to a large extent. Even NC insiders complained it reignited party leadership weaknesses and inaction in forming a new NC led Government.
So what alternatives remain now? Obviously the only other hidden factor that could help solve the political stalemate is, of course, the current leadership role of CA-Parliament Chair Surya Bahadur Thapa, a five time former Prime Minister, whom both visiting Indian and Chinese senior officials have asked to steer the new CA-Parliament structure to greater heights in drafting a new Nepali Constitution. One must note that Thapa is considered a trusted and good friend of India and the West as well, and his former differences with ex-King Gyanendra are known to be in a stage of “patch-up” on the possible future of constitutional monarchy in the new Nepali state. Thapa could prove a strong and neutral mediator trusted by all sides to bridge the lack of confidence in current government formation. In fact, until such a period that his initiatives proved successful, Thapa could be asked, ideally, to head the Nepal Government on a neutral capacity not aligned to any party’s interests including the RPP.
One should note still, in spirit, Nepal is considered a federal democratic republic, though everyone has dropped the terminology to call it the Nepal Government to avoid any political controversy, given the fluid state of current Nepali politics. It is felt by senior Nepali leaders, including from Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML that Thapa could continue even longer if he so wishes, since the prolonged uncertainty in choosing a President, Vice President and CA-Parliament Chair based on CPN-UML’s bargaining terms (in effect replacing them with their own party candidates!) is well-nigh unacceptable to the Nepali Congress and the CPN-Maoists have their own hidden agenda in that. Thapa had formerly shown some inclination to support the NC led federal restructuring proposal based on public consensus.
Meanwhile, if Khil Raj Regmi decided to go back to his old position as Chief Justice, despite the Nepal Bar Association’s temporary reservations, Thapa might still get full cooperation from the judiciary as well in drafting and writing a new Nepali Constitution. This could also neutralize Pushpa Kumar Dahal as the newly elected Parliamentary Party leader of the CPN-Maoist, who has been repeatedly asking the Nepali Congress leader Sushil Koirala to personally consider Dahal’s wish to head the new Constitution Drafting Committee or else be nominated to be the new CA Chair. But given the public disapproval of the CPN-Maoist’s former ethno-federalism based proposal it will be impossible for Dahal to get either position as a bargaining chip for his party, but none the less it is still the third largest party in the new CA-Parliament. One should also note, the Nepali Congress has much distrust of the CPN-M leaders who did an about turn on various crucial occasions putting them in a tight corner a few days even before the CA Poll 2013 vote was held. These incidents are not yet public but neither party would like to vent their grievances in public related to election maneuvering and campaign style mode conflicts that resulted in outright wins for some and well speculated defeats for others. However, give NC’s current voting strength as the largest party and a true propagator of Nepali democracy enjoying urban popularity, it has still got a strong chance to head a new government with induction of the Madhesi parties and the RPP, though the Maoists support will be equally crucial though unlikely.
What does this mean for Nepal’s democratic future and the next Prime Minister to be? With the current Nepal Government led by Khil Raj Regmi receiving hundred percent confidence and popular support from the international community for getting things done pragmatically and involving the total support of Nepal’s bureaucracy, unforeseen except during the former Panchayat era, the truth is Nepal may not have a new Prime Minister until a constitution is drafted. In fact, with the heightening distrust between the NC, CPN-UML and the CPN-Maoists, Khil Raj Regmi’s technocratic team might be working with the new CA-Parliament structure headed by CA Chair Surya Bahadur Thapa to fulfill the people’s demands for a home spun constitution, so that a year’s time is fruitfully spent by the CA-Parliament members to also spearhead Nepali development efforts simultaneously. Thapa again has strong experience in executing national development projects in his various tenures as Prime Minister.
As old Nepali media hands intermingling with foreign diplomats are known to quip in Durbar Marg’s famous Coffee Shop, it is back to square one, or rather putting the cart before the horse in trying to keep Nepal’s democratic spirits alive, somehow!