A political aftershock seems to have followed the April 25 earthquake in Nepal, as the demand for a change in government leadership is gradually dominating the political discourse. Earlier this week, Maoist chief Prachanda suggested that all leaders get their acts together and complete the constitution-writing process within a month under incumbent Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, and “after that, let him step aside and pave the way for K.P. Oli.” Oli is the chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), a partner in the ruling coalition.
But in the power-centric politics Nepali actors have been pursuing over the past decade, no one would agree to hand over power easily. Koirala is no exception. Nor can Prachanda’s suggestion be taken at face value. While the Maoists are the main opposition in the Constituent Assembly and a distant third in the House, Prachanda hopes that if he is accepted as the kingmaker now, he and his party could play a much bigger role later. Devendra Poudel, another senior leader of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), has already suggested Oli as PM and Prachanda as president. But for that to happen, both Koirala and President Ram Baran Yadav must not only agree to step down, but the Nepali Congress, the party that leads the coalition, should also agree to extend all support to the government, leaving the top posts to the two communist parties.
Post-April 25, there has been little talk of politics and constitution-writing. The discussion has been about the earthquake and the collective failure of the government and parties to provide relief and shelter. The government has also not been able to spell out its priorities and demands when donor countries ask what they can do to help. The government is keen that donors should give cash to victims. But with no post-disaster plan in place, no country will oblige the Nepal government and parties. Their loss of credibility for other failures is not helping, either.
Koirala, meanwhile, refuses to buckle under pressure and tells his detractors that he alone cannot be punished for the failure to deliver the constitution, which is essential for political stability — the key to economic recovery. Koirala will be visiting New Delhi next month, mainly to seek a bigger contribution from India for the major phase of rehabilitation and construction. Again, it is something his government is not clear about. India and China have promised to do anything Nepal wants. But will New Delhi come to Koirala’s aid now that the ground beneath his feet is shrinking? Nepal’s actors are not known for pursuing a politics of accountability. What will Delhi gain by putting its weight behind a government that may not be there long enough to oversee the “new Nepal” being built?
Politically, “new Nepal” was the common slogan of the major parties led by the Maoists after they secured a monopoly on power post-April 2006. But the words do not inspire any positive feeling among Nepal’s common people. For them, the “new Nepal” only means a ruined economy coupled with instability, political chaos and a neverending transition. That explains why some leaders are in a hurry to have the constitution delivered within a month.
Yadav has shed his reservations about the army “bypassing” him. He had earlier resented being kept out when the army was being mobilised, triggering speculation that the army was acting more autonomously than the constitution envisaged. While that fear has subsided, the new move for a change of government leadership, at the initiative of the UML and Maoists, is bound to trigger new political permutations. But there is still little to cheer about, as neither quake relief nor reconstruction is the focus of these exercises.