Prachanda steps back: Will Nepal at last have a Prime Minister?

The process of electing a Prime Minister to head a coalition Government in Nepal took a curious turn on Friday (17 September) with the Maoists declaring that their candidate for the job, Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as ‘Prachanda’, was pulling out of the race.

The announcement followed a ‘deal’ between the Maoists and the CPN(UML) to break the deadlock that has persisted since June 30, when Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal was forced to resign after Mr Dahal and his party cadre took to the streets. Since then the Constituent Assembly has failed to elect a Prime Minister despite seven rounds of voting. Neither Mr Dahal nor the other contender for the post, Mr Ram Chandra Poudyal of the Nepali Congress, could get the necessary two-thirds majority as is required under the interim arrangement to head a coalition Government.

The CPN (Maoist), with 238 members, is the single largest party in the 601-member Constituent Assembly but that by itself is not sufficient to ensure the election of its candidate. The Nepali Congress has 114 members, followed by the the CPN(UML) with 109 members. The Madhesi alliance has 82 members. With the CPN(UML) and the Madhesi alliance remaining neutral, the seven rounds of voting were bound to result in a political deadlock, severely paralysing Nepal’s Government which has barely managed a holding operation for the past three months.

It is anybody’s guess as to how the situation will play out in the coming days. An eighth round of voting is scheduled for September 26. Apparently both the Maoists and the CPN(UML) have decided not to field candidates for this round of voting, which would suggest that the Nepali Congress’s nominee will sail through. But that should not be taken for granted. It is entirely possible that the Maoists will come up with a second contender, possibly Mr Baburam Bhattarai, who could be supported by the CPN(UML) — if that were to happen, Nepal could yet witness the Maoists returning to power for a second time.

Hopefully, there will be greater clarity in the next couple of days. A candidate selected on the basis of consensus among all three parties, or at least two of them, still remains the best option. For, Nepal cannot afford the luxury of political uncertainty and the consequent delay in framing and adopting a Constitution for the nascent republic, the contours of whose polity still remain undefined.

The Constituent Assembly’s tenure has already been extended by a year on May 28; to extend it any further would be to make a mockery of the exercise for which it was elected. Moreover, it serves nobody’s interest if governance continues to suffer on account of there being no Government. The people of Nepal deserve far better than what has been delivered in the name of democracy so far.

[© The Pioneer]

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