By Ameet Dhakal
As the largest party in the Constituent Assembly but without a majority, the CPN (Maoist) is certain to lead a coalition government. What is uncertain, however, is what sort of coalition it would be and how power will be shared among the major parties.
One thing is sure — negotiations on the formation of the coalition government are not going to be plain sailing.
The second and third largest parties in the CA — NC and UML — are almost evenly split on whether or not they should join a coalition led by the Maoists. Though the UML has decided to pull out of the present government, Jhala Nath Khanal, who may possibly become the next UML general secretary, said the party hasn’t decided to stay out of the new government.
The NC and the UML face three critical issues before they decide to join or stay out of the next government. a. What is the mandate of the CA poll? b. Whether staying out of the government would be seen by the public as not being sincere about the peace process and as an attempt to get the Maoist-led government into trouble from day one? c. Will abstention from the government pave the way for a Maoist dictatorship for years to come, if the reds are so inclined ?
Tackling these issues isn’t easy. Almost all NC and UML leaders agree that the mandate of the CA poll is against their participation in the new government. “The people’s mandate for us is to stay out of the government but the party will decide taking into account all the factors,” said Mahesh Acharya, central committee member of the NC. There is already growing pressure from the rank and file of these parties to withdraw from the government. Many party cadres, still licking their wounds, wish to see the Maoists running into trouble after forming a minority government.
But the parties are bound by the interim constitution and their own election manifestos to work together till a new constitution is drafted. A senior NC leader who is a minister in the current coalition government argued that their main responsibility is to draft a new constitution. “If the NC and UML stay out of the new government, inter-party animosity will grow, making it impossible to draft a new constitution and hold the next election on time,” he said.
Should that happen, argued this politician, “People will blame not just the Maoists but also us for failing to take the peace process to a logical conclusion.”
It is this fear of public sentiment going against them and a strong voice within the parties that giving the Maoists sole control of the government might lead to authoritarianism for years to come that may eventually trip the balance in favor of joining the new government.
In that case, the NC and UML leaders want constitutional and political checks and balance against an executive led by the Maoists. “If the Maoists want us to join the government, they should be ready to amend the constitution whereby a simple majority of the CA can remove the prime minister,” said Gagan Thapa, youth leader of the NC. Another NC leader said the Maoists should be ready to give the post of prime minister or head of state to the other parties.
And that is what the Maoists want to avoid at all cost. In an interview with the Post, Maoist chairman Prachanda said they were against creating ‘parallel power centers’. He said allocating the posts of PM and Head of State to different parties could create divided loyalty among the security forces and the international players. “We think it will only complicate the transition,” he said.
The Maoists actually favor amendment of the interim constitution to create a post of executive president, something which seems unlikely since they need to muster a two-third majority for that. The second option they are eyeing is the same leader functioning as prime minister and acting head of state.
But many NC and UML leaders argue that the PM and the Head of State should be from different parties to create checks and balance during the transition.
UML leader Pradeep Gyawali said the spirit of the present constitution is consensus and power sharing among the major political forces. “The Maoist demand that the PM and the Head of State should be from the same party is against the spirit of the constitution and the culture of consensus politics,” he said.
NC leader Narahari Acharya is hopeful that the Maoists will not stick to their current stance to the end. “Since doubt has been raised about Maoist commitment to holding timely elections and a peaceful handover of power in future, we all should work jointly to address this.” He further added: “This is not a time for posturing; we should all work to find a solution acceptable to all.”
Ameet Dhakal is the news editor of the Kathmandu Post where this story originally appeared today.