Hopes galore after the new government in Nepal finally saw the light of day which had been delayed for long due to squabbling and in-fighting among the political parties. As the new coalition government faces the daunting task of providing the country (which has for long been engulfed in a political impasse and civil war) a constitution that will help Nepal gain the structure to move forward as an able democracy, chances are that it will face many more challenges before any major success.
The very fact that it took so long for the political community of Nepal to find a ‘solution’ to the unrest that had robbed the country of any economic or developmental progress means that the formation of the Constituent Assembly is a rather meek step forward towards stabilizing the country. The political solution that has been found to solve the many problems of Nepal will only look at issues from a narrow perspective, simply because the coalition government that has been formed is on the basis of a mere political agreement, a bargain of sorts between two of the country’s largest political parties.
In this sense, it brings little hope that they will be able to formulate or draft a constitution within a year or restore the economic prosperity of the country, which are currently the key priorities for the country. As power sharing alone has caused such ruckus already, it doesn’t present a hopeful picture that key issues and policy issues like foreign affairs and development will be pragmatically resolved. Moreover, making peace last after a decade long civil conflict will continue to create an unprecedented question for the success of Nepal.
By managing to reconcile their differences over power sharing which was beginning to deepen the political crisis in Nepal, the three main parties-the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) and the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party of Nepal signed a seven point agreement on February 9th, 2014 which paved the way for Sushil Koirala to head the coalition government as the new Prime Minister of Nepal.
Sushil Koirala, who belongs to a noted political family, is a cousin of former Prime Minister G P Koirala. He was elected with 405 votes in his favor in the 601-member Constituent Assembly.
Though it must be lauded as a formidable step for politically accommodating each other’s wishes, it still carries the trademark of a typical arrangement between two power hungry political parties. The main highlights of the deal are that the CPN-UML is to give conditional support to the Nepali Congress led government. They have also demanded for elections for the posts of president, vice-president and chairperson of the Constituent Assembly before the implementation of the new constitution. Also, within a week of government formation, the cabinet had to announce a code of conduct and common minimum program for its members.
Perhaps the most important clause in the agreement is to draft the constitution within a year, according to prior agreements like the 12-point agreement reached in New Delhi in 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2008 and the Interim Constitution in 2007, and above all, the mandate of the people.
However, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala faced a hostile house, as at least a third of the promised one year time-frame for constitution delivery ran out. It took the new constituent assembly more than three months to get a coalition government in place without a common minimum program. For the longest time, the president and the speaker remained divided along party lines. The National Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist failed to settle whether the head of state or the chair of the house would certify the legislations and the constitution.
Moreover, the two parties have wrangled over the question of who will authenticate the draft of the new constitution. This is essentially a non-issue, because ultimately it will be the government who will be remembered for bringing about the constitution, not a single party which is what makes the tactic of promulgating credit for making the constitution narrow minded. It speaks of their zero-sum approach towards dealing with the most important task before their country. It has delayed the finalization of all tasks related to the working of the Constituent Assembly which is a blatant display of just how non-serious the parties are towards making progress.
Unnecessary debates like which member from which political party will get what post are delaying the process of all other points of the agreement. Thus, because the government is not able to settle these non-issues, it is not able to work on serious issues like tackling corruption, economic losses, lack of poverty and development and national interests. These are much more important and contentious issues and if the government is taking so much time to finalize trivial issues, they are essentially sending out a message that once again, the process of making the constitution has taken a backseat.
Also, in the past, the political parties have dissolved the Constituent Assembly despite similar agreements in place. With complete disregard for the country, the political parties have disagreed on questions of national importance like economic, international and developmental policies.
Another factor that has become apparent is that what brings these two parties together is the determination to keep out a Maoist-led alliance.
The agreement is all about breaking the political stalemate, which had for long been hijacked by the Maoist aggression, first by an insurgent action and then by the electoral challenge during elections. Through the coalition, they intend to keep the royalists and the Maoists at bay. Hence, with such a mentality towards government formation, it is very hard to expect anything progressive in terms of drafting a constitution or changing the winds of fortune for the country. The intention proves that their ‘agreement’ is essentially influenced by their political ambitions, rather than with the intention to bring about a real change in the country.
Conversely, the Maoists are still not satisfied. The fact that they were offered a part in the government which they refused to take, the rebels, who faced a stunning defeat in the polls are determined to strike back because they fear the two big parties could gang up against them to evaporate their version of a federal and secular republic.
In addition, the current government, which is inevitably fragile, is bound to face a hard time ahead as the parties have ideological differences which will naturally act as barriers to smooth functioning, governing and working of the government. Secondly, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) is not part of the power-sharing which is harboring speculations that it will be hard to institutionalize change or discuss key issues with regards to the constitution if a key party is excluded from the political decision making. In any case, Nepal’s key forces in government haven’t yet attempted to begin some serious work to write the constitution which is only encouraging uneasiness for the international community that Nepal still has a long way to go.
Issues that previously made for opposing views of the parties that are now in coalition will now determine how smoothly, and for how long will these former opposing parties work together in a coalition. Any failure to carefully work our differences and set out priorities is bound to further discredit the parties and belief in the system.
Consequently, the politics of power sharing will undoubtedly prove to be a setback in deliverance. Since the basis of forming the government has been political and opportunistic, it will come as no surprise if the continuous bickering and bargaining between the collating parties leaves the impending constitution far from being formed. In addition, with different ideas for the Federal Structure, the current alliance could find itself in dead-lock like situations which would risk it from maintaining a mandate to govern. This has in fact happened in 2008, when the question of the structure of the federal became a bone of contention between the parties, leading to dissolution of the first Constituent Assembly.
One should not expect a drastic change or a rapid progress in the way things will work in Nepal with the mere success of the formation of a coalition government. If anything, the coalition government has sort of added to the tangled set of problems that are holding Nepal back.
Nepal still has a long way to go before it gets back on the track of economic and political development. While it is certainly an increasing sign that two of the biggest and opposing political parties of Nepal have come together to break the deadlock and move the process of remaking Nepal’s destiny forward, they will not be able to achieve much if they continue to bicker over non-essential issues and power hungry politics.
They have to change their mindset. There is no other solution to the ongoing instability in Nepal because till the time the political community of Nepal doesn’t put the interest of Nepal and its people above that of their own respective ideologies, Nepal will never be able to achieve the progress it is capable of achieving.
Sandwiched between India and China, the region’s fastest growing economies, Nepal has much to gain. In addition, it has a wide pool of human resources, natural resources, hydroelectricity and tourism that is just waiting to be tapped by its neighbors. However, political unrest in stalling its growth and if this trend continues, Nepal could be permanently handicapped.
Most importantly, the political community of Nepal should understand that where major issues of national and international importance are concerned, there should be an amicable process of reaching to a consensus by accommodating all parties’ views so that the main goal of maintaining the supremacy of the national interest of Nepal is not blockaded. In this regard, Nepal has much to learn from its southern neighbor and brother- India.