Last week, Sushil Koirala from Nepali Congress officially became the 37th Prime Minister of Nepal backed by almost unanimous voting from the new CA-Parliament. However, within 24 hours, the CPN-UML, its projected second largest coalition partner backtracked crucial support stating NC had breached an earlier promise in allocating them the Home Ministry. This has left Koirala as the new Prime Minister facing a multi-pronged leadership challenge both from within NC and outside. He has already been dubbed a leader with little experience in leading a government according to a close NC colleague Sher Bahadur Deuba.
In the post CA Poll 2013 scenario, the Nepali Congress won the highest number of votes and looked pretty well poised in the past two weeks to lead a multi-party democratic government with ideal participation of all major and minor parties in the new CA-Parliament structure based on the magic word ‘consensus’ politics. But with disenchanted leaders such as two time ex-Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba who commands substantive respect within the Nepali Congress, and a vocal niece Sujata Koirala who has asked on NC to give the Home Ministry portfolio to UML as agreed, both openly critical of the new NC leadership, has left Sushil Koirala morally broken and in a confounding political situation.
In the past two weeks, Koirala’s two negotiators Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat and Deep Kumar Upadhaya had faced much difficulty in trying to convince the CPN-UML and other parties to join an NC led national consensus government. But the parting shot came from none other than K.P. Oli Sharma, the new Parliamentary Party leader of the CPN-UML who does not mind making his party’s voice heard through the Nepali and international media, namely that it had significant reservations to an NC-CPN-UML partnership since one of the main UML demands was replacing three positions, namely the Nepal President, Vice President and CA Chair with its own candidates as part of any positive UML support, although Oli’s demands were later toned down. Coincidentally, CPN-UML is considered the most pro-Beijing oriented of Nepali political parties followed by the CPN-Maoists.
Sushil Koirala had shown initial open trust in the UML’s position when it partially dropped its bargaining to retain the CA Chair and instead get the ‘Home Ministry’ but it seems there was mounting opposition from within NC and also from an external neighboring power. The Home Ministry is considered a prime cabinet portfolio and a significant coalition achievement for any political party wanting to maneuver its hold in the upcoming local elections. Given Bam Dev Gautam’s controversial handling of that position in the past as Deputy Prime Minister fielded by CPN-UML, senior NC hardliners had amply cautioned Koirala not to bow down to the UML’s wishes. Thus it seems NC backtracked and responded to the UML pullout stating no such agreement had been made.
However UML took serious objection by inviting leaders of the four big and other influential parties in the new CA-Parliament structure to Balkhu headquarters to “expose NC’s consistent double talk, lies and more duplicity to come”. In particular, Sujata Koirala’s press voicing in support of the UML for allocating them the Home Ministry could be an attempt to distract all from her own avowed bid to head back to the Foreign Ministry for which she has also been lobbying certain external power circles, if it would help. But Nepal’s Foreign Ministry diplomats seem to be averse in having Sujata around given past blind favors accorded to some of favorites which in effect was considered non-recognition of career Nepali diplomats to head significant Nepali missions abroad, in particular Washington D.C., London, Bonn, Tokyo, New Delhi and Beijing. Thus, it appears, except for India and China which sent quick congratulatory diplomatic notes (being traditional and supportive neighbors) to the Sushil Koirala government(and whose significant ministers have not even been appointed in a week’s period!), the US and the G-8 seem to be waiting patiently to see what unfurls next and what kind of democratic coalition will evolve to give strong continuity to the Khil Raj Regmi led technocratic government, with which all were happy, including India and China for their considerable support. Sushil Koirala somehow has to fill in that legacy.
Due to this, Sushil Koirala already faces serious challenges in fielding non-corrupt names to his new cabinet. The Nepali people are also in no mood to accept already exposed notorious Nepali politicians with the new political mandate of the recently elected Big Four Parties all enjoying strong relations with their local constituencies. For instance, almost every single leader in the NC coterie that surrounds Sushil Koirala has made some media headline in the past related to corruption or some other personal scandal. The CPN-UML also seems in a tight spot not wishing to be led by NC in such a tight situation given possible media backlash in the long run and also its avowed pro-Beijing leanings. For instance, K.P. Sharma Oli believes he could be a better and more dashing Prime Minister with previous national leadership experience. But still, the UML does acknowledge NC as the largest party that won the people’s mandate in the CA Poll 2013, and thus has the right to form a government of its choice though not sure for how long. However, given the new ideological and international bonds that Nepali political parties have developed, it will be hard to find a suitable working coalition group that will lead Nepal for long or in an apolitical manner like the former Regmi government.
This, in essence, is Sushil Koirala’s new challenge for the next 100 days. However, he must try tackling corruption as a top most priority.
The CPN-Maoists too have vowed to stay away from such power sharing controversy bogging the widening NC-UML rift, preferring to focus on constitution writing. In fact, Pushpa Kumar Dahal the new PP of CPN-M, recently stated that if the major political parties were not serious about writing a Constitution, like in the earlier CA, it would deeply impact Nepali democracy and betray the people’s expectations. Dahal had earlier predicted a democratic rift in the NC-UML partnership which became true. On the other hand, Sushil Koirala, while is serious about the Constitution writing process, still seems bent on an NC led government with maximum all party participation to override any attempt from the CPN-UML or the Maoists (whom the NC views as the Great Conspirators).
Sushil Koirala also feels pressured by increased public lobbying by Nepali women and Janjatiya groups to appoint remaining 26 CA members from their “quota”. The over achievers of Nepali society should have been ideally accorded such nomination by the previous CA Parliament but it did not transpire.
Also in the new power ball game, it will be remarkable if any NC-UML coalition will actually be able to work towards accommodating the interests of other emergent power parties such as the Rastriya Prajatantra Party or the Madhesi parties which could benefit from a BJP landslide win in India’s upcoming elections. After all, Koirala’s hands and feet seem already tied by his close and newly appointed advisers and immediate family relatives, some of w h o m appear critical of him.
The biggest danger for Sushi l Koirala in the long run is: without any concrete economic or development achievement to boast of, he may not enjoy the same popularity within NC circles, in particular the Deuba camp that sits fuming outside the Singha Darbar door since Deuba has considerable leadership experience as a former two time Prime Minister of Nepal and is a skilled inter-party negotiator and delivered quite well with an NC led government before. One should be aware, Koirala advisors repeatedly have termed the Deuba camp ‘regressives’, as opposed to their own ‘progressive’ thinking, something that has further increased the rift between the two NC camps.
What is the next turn for Nepal’s democratic future? One thing that needs to be discussed seriously by all Nepali political parties is the need to stabilize past democratic achievements and give continuity to solution oriented national economic development plans working closely with international donors. Nepal also now needs able cross-party leaders to lead the country forward, not the old generation of (din bhari clown, rat bhari down translated to the whole day a clown, and the whole night inebriated and naturally down) variety of single party oriented ministers. Nepal’s bureaucracy which the Regmi administration fine tuned to core performance competencies within one year, promoted many good officers to second and first class level. They now stand ready to support the Koirala government. The new government must take them into confidence. In the past, the change of political leadership at Singha Darbar, often meant high level interference and transfer of secretaries at various Ministries. Sushil Koirala must avoid this as it can result in non-cooperation from Nepal’s powerful techno-bureaucracy. Koirala also has to be pro-public with the professional bureaucratic corps. One good example is new Kathmandu based SSP Ramesh Prasad Kharel who seems to have some innovative ideas up his sleeves to restore public law, order and confidence to enhance the credibility of the national security apparatus, in particular Nepal Police.
Similarly, the morale and confidence within Nepal Army similarly could not be any higher than with its current COAS Gaurav SJB Rana who had the courage to confer insignia on a newly promoted Colonel Yam Bahadur Adhikari, a former UCPN-Maoist commander now integrated into NA, at a special function at the Nepal Army headquarters. Rana in truth displayed his national leadership commitment to usher in peace and reconciliation through one simple act. Of course, he has also worked hard to make NA publicly visible in support of Nepalese democracy through its impartial conduct and logistic support during the CA Poll 2013. Rana has also enhanced recruitment of female soldiers and female officers in the Nepal Army which is now considered a role model in the Asia-Pacific region. Koirala needs to garner the respect of such fine Nepali public servants and honor their hard work which the Nepali public will appreciate very much. It will also ease the pressure on Koirala’s leadership challenge. However, Sushil Koirala also has to be overall sensitive to Nepal’s national security needs in the coming days as the geo-political security scenario has considerably changed since the last NC government under the late Girija Prasad Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba.
Overall, it is high time, Nepal’s four largest parties work closely with Nepal’s 37th Prime Minister since the Nepali people voted NC into confidence as the largest party. But Sushil Koirala must also realize that this has been a vote from Nepal’s burgeoning and powerful middle class for all top political parties to collectively reform, patch up and carry forward Nepal’s democratic mainstreaming vision as assured during the recent CA Poll. This is why Sushil Koirala must respect the Nepali vote and show commitment to help Nepal achieve democracy with development and making its fruits enjoyable to the Nepali people as the international community wishes. Nepal’s history and cultural traditions must not be forgotten in the process.