In Nepali politicians’ relentless drive for power, ideology and principle have often been casualties. Political parties have come together to grab power, and have displayed a tendency to stay on beyond their constitutional mandate. Over the past decade of political transitioning, as power equations have shifted constantly, there have been several occasions when promises have been broken, and understandings dishonoured. The willingness of the Maoist chief, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, to step down from office on Wednesday in deference to an agreement reached at the time he took power is, therefore, unusual.
Dahal not only ignored a tempting offer made by the main opposition Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, which wanted him to continue as Prime Minister at least until mid-June, he made it clear that he would not change his party’s existing equation with the Nepali Congress. “I am walking out of the post as a successful leader, and will continue to perform my role as a Parliamentarian and a citizen,” he announced during the course of a televised address to the nation (pictured right).
This was not the first time that Dahal had walked away from power. He had resigned as Prime Minister on May 3, 2009, nearly 9 months after assuming that responsibility for the first time, as the party that had waged a war against the state joined the democratic process and contested the elections to the Constituent Assembly. Dahal resigned after coalition partners criticised him, and the then President Ram Baran Yadav vetoed his move to dismiss the then Chief of the Army, General Rookmangud Katawal.
Over the years, Dahal has faced many accusations from his opponents and, at times, from even the leaders of his own party. He has been accused of being corrupt, power-hungry, and of being more loyal to powerful neighbours, especially to India. But in relinquishing high office, he has stood apart from his detractors.
G P Koirala, the most powerful leader in the post-2006 phase, continued in power from April 2006 to mid-August 2008 — without constitutional sanction during the last 3 of those months. Koirala’s Nepali Congress failed to secure a majority in the first Constituent Assembly, but he and his cabinet continued without seeking a fresh electoral mandate and taking oath afresh.
K P Sitaula, Koirala’s Home Minister, moved the resolution to abolish the monarchy around midnight on May 28, 2008, an action whose legitimacy is questioned by some constitutional experts. Koirala has also been accused of not honouring the understanding reached with King Gyanendra in April 2006 for the “continuation of the monarchy”.
Dahal became Prime Minister for the first time in August 2008, after Koirala finally stepped aside in the face of criticism that his continuation in the post after the results of the Constituent Assembly election was illegal and unconstitutional. But his legitimacy came more from the silence of the “international community”, which had been closely involved in the peace process, and had a powerful say in Nepal’s affairs.
Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist succeeded Dahal — and without any sanction, or perhaps parallel in parliamentary history, continued as caretaker Prime Minister for 7 months. Nearly 2 years later, Baburam Bhattarai followed in his footsteps.
In fact, Jhalnath Khanal, also from the UML, remained a “lame duck” Prime Minister, but was the only other person to relinquish the post to give “consensus” a chance to facilitate the process of constitution-making, then the priority of the Constituent Assembly. Baburam Bhattarai, then the number 2 in the Maoist party, succeeded Khanal in August 2010, and “conspiratorially” dissolved the House late one night in May 2011, only to continue as caretaker Prime Minister for another 10 months.
Bhattarai vacated the post only after an “apolitical” person was identified to succeed him as head of government, and to hold the election for the second Constituent Assembly. Khil Raj Regmi, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, succeeded Bhattarai, inflicting in the process permanent damage to the fairness and image of the judiciary, as the government that came into existence was seen as a collaboration for executive power among the judiciary and the 4 major political parties.
The Regmi government, no doubt, conducted the elections to the second Constituent Assembly in November, which led to a new government assuming power under the leadership of Sushil Koirala, president of the Nepali Congress, following a deal with the UML that its chief, K P Oli, would become Prime Minister immediately after the constitution was promulgated.
Once the constitution was promulgated on September 20, 2015, Koirala was reluctant to honour this agreement, but ultimately yielded ground as he faced pressure from his own party as well. However, he contested against Oli — only to suffer a humiliating defeat in Parliament, as the Maoists sided with the UML as its coalition partner in October 2016. In July 2017, Dahal stuck a quiet deal with Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress under which he was to be Prime Minister for the first 9 months, to be succeeded by Deuba for the period until January 2018.
On Wednesday, Dahal kept his part of the bargain. Whether it can inject a shot of “morality” in Nepali politics remains to be seen.