The president called for a government at last. But that does not guarantee that a government will be formed.
President Ram Baran Yadav began the process of appointing a new government on Sunday, 68 days after the election took place. The president’s call to form a “consensus government” under Article 38 (1) of the interim constitution is only a formality as the House is hung. The Nepali Congress (NC), the largest party, has only 196 members. Next week, after the deadline’s expiry, Yadav will invite parties to form a majority government. But even that is unlikely to be smooth, given the divisions within major parties and complexities affecting inter-party relations.
So far, only the NC has been able to elect its parliamentary party leader. The Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), the second and third largest parties respectively, are trying to manage internal bickering before they formally elect their leader. In the NC, chairman Sushil Koirala defeated his only rival, Sher Bahadur Deuba, by a margin of 16 votes. That means, Deuba holds 46 per cent loyalty in the faction-ridden parliamentary party. Running, or even forming, a government bypassing him will be difficult.
Koirala needs to give a respectable share to the rival faction to be able to form a government, besides surrendering the president’s post — replacing Yadav — to the UML, a precondition set by the latter. By that token, the UCPN-M will settle for the post of speaker. So, just as in the past, government formation and constitution-writing will be more about power-sharing and distribution of posts among the three parties — not over the contentious issues that hindered constitution- writing in the previous Constituent Assembly (CA).
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“But we will not allow this House to be an extension of the previous one, nor will we own everything the leaders of the major parties decided among themselves,” said Kamal Thapa, chief and parliamentary leader of the pro-monarchy Rastriya Prajatantra Party. He isn’t the only one coming in the way of a possible monopolising of power, governance and constitution-writing by the big parties.
In his inaugural address to the House as protem speaker, five-time PM and the eldest House member, Surya Bahadur Thapa, said the international community had started doubting “our leadership’s ability”, following a series of past failures. He warned that history might be repeated as in the early 1950s, when the “politics of negation” pursued by the parties and their failure led to the king taking the initiative. Although the first CA meeting had abolished the monarchy, Nepal has not yet been constitutionally validated as a republic. Also, the monarchy and conservative forces are more organised and vocal this time round.
The prolonged absence of a legitimate government will not only hamper routine sittings of the legislature but also mean the continuation of the Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi-led executive.
Regmi will continue to influence the functioning of the apex court. Resultantly, the apex court will be discredited like the parties. Besides, there is a lot of resentment in the civil and police administration as Regmi’s government has let the powerful army go ahead with routine promotions, while stalling the same for the other two. The delay in government formation is likely to give Regmi immunity against his every omission or administrative lapse.
How effectively will Koirala garner support from Deuba’s rival faction? Koirala, an introvert with no experience of being in government, is also perceived as “anti-India” by the New Delhi establishment. That may put him on the “wait and watch” list in Delhi, perhaps reducing cooperation essential for political stability and constitution-making in Nepal.
Second, sacrificing Ram Baran Yadav, of proven loyalty, will be another headache for Koirala. A president-PM tussle may have an equally negative impact. Third, even if moderate parties like the NC and UML form a coalition government, their refusal to protect Maoists for atrocities committed by them will result in total non-cooperation from the UCPN-M. Without the Maoists, neither the peace process nor constitution-writing can be concluded. The failure to form a government and the uncertainties about such a government’s effectiveness make the new CA look even more hopeless and a bigger national disappointment.