Intra-party and inter-party feuds and compromises over power-sharing have been the most common feature of Nepali politics in the seven years of radical change. There are added features now. President Ram Baran Yadav and chief justice-cum-executive chief, Khil Raj Regmi, are at loggerheads over who should call the inaugural session of the new Constituent Assembly. Yadav’s request to Regmi to follow practices of parliamentary democracy everywhere has apparently not convinced him.
Regmi’s logic is simple: G.P. Koirala was prime minister on May 28, 2008 when he summoned the first session of the former CA. Koirala was all powerful and had three simultaneous responsibilities — acting head of state between April 2006 and July 2008, president of the Nepali Congress, as well as PM — as part of a general agreement among key political parties. But democracy creates precedents that may not be easy for successive governments to follow, as the row between Yadav and Regmi proves. Moreover, Regmi is not like previous executive heads since he has continued to be the CJ.
This one incident may not be reason enough to worry about Nepali politics and the unfinished constitution-making process. But other developments are equally disturbing. Altogether, 28 out of 30 parties have submitted their list of legislators under the proportional representation system. This has triggered factional feuds in all major parties. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) is showing signs of yet another split, with its chief, Prachanda, cornered by his ambitious colleague Baburam Bhattarai who wants Prachanda to take responsibility for the party’s electoral setback and quit. The pro-monarchy Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, the fourth largest party, has already suffered a split over the nomination of legislators.
But differences among Maoists and the UCPN-M’s possible split may impact the peace and constitution-making process. Bhattarai, with a poor track record as PM and his wife Hisila Yami criticised within the party as “one of the most corrupt leaders”, is on an equally weak footing while the chairman has a firm grip despite the crisis. This crisis is also likely to delay government formation.
It needed lot of persuasion and even a warning to Prachanda to get him to join the CA. The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) wrote a letter to the UCPN-M, hinting it may probe allegations of four billion rupees for guerrillas as salary and allowances provided by the state before their integration with the army — something that may catch Prachanda himself in the net. As a face-saver to the Maoists, the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML agreed on a House committee to probe allegations of electoral rigging. This was a means of securing Maoist commitment for the early constitution of the legislature. But they little realised that such an arrangement, without examining the merits of the case, would send out the message that, prima facie, there is a case to probe, which the Maoists may cite as a victory. As the House remains badly hung, the UCPN-M continues to make unreasonable demands.
The three biggest parties and their five allies from the Madhesh area have agreed on a “high-level political machinery” to assist and coordinate with the government on day-to-day governance and constitution-making. This is being seen as an extra-constitutional body with no accountability and an arrangement to exclude other forces. Prachanda is lobbying to get this machinery’s top post. As the only surviving leader who signed the Comprehensive Peace Accord marking the end of the decade-long conflict, his involvement in the peace and constitution-making process is crucial. But a democratic mandate can’t be subverted by the muscle-flexing of a party rejected by the people.