Nepal in the foreign press:
The Hindu reports that American ambassador Nancy Powell “actively pushing” the idea that Girija Prasad Koirala should remain Prime Minister. A section of Nepali Congress says Maoists must first oust Koirala to stake claim to the top post. Amendment to interim constitution to allow PM to be removed by simple majority proposed
By Siddharth Varadarajan
After first “congratulating the people of Nepal on their historic Constitutional Assembly election,” the United States is now seeking to subvert the electorate’s mandate by lobbying against the Maoists heading the next coalition government. According to political and diplomatic sources, the U.S. ambassador in Kathmandu, Nancy Powell, is “actively pushing” the idea that Girija Prasad Koirala should continue as Prime Minister. Under the interim constitution, all major decisions, including the appointment or removal of the Prime Minister, must be taken by consensus, failing which by a two-thirds majority. With the encouragement of the Americans, a section of the Nepali Congress (NC) leadership is now citing this provision to argue that the Maoists will first have to oust Mr. Koirala before they can stake a claim to the top post.
“Suicidal for party”
The American suggestion which one NC leader in an interview to The Hindu described as “suicidal for the party” runs counter to the belief of Indian and other diplomats here that a Maoist-led government is inevitable given the scale of their victory.
The CA consists of 601 seats, 575 of which are elected. Of these, the Maoists have 220, or 38.2 per cent, the NC only 110 and the Unified Marxist-Leninists (UML) 103. The four Madhesi parties have 85 seats between them. A further 26 seats will be filled by nomination on a pro rata basis.
In the current coalition based on the “interim legislature,” the NC, with 40 per cent of the seats, has not just the prime ministership but also the defence, home and finance portfolios. In line with this practice, Prachanda, chairman of the CPN Maoist, says his party will now head the coalition government and keep the three top ministries to itself.
Pressuring the Maoists
Though some observers feel the “GPK as PM” line is meant to pressure the Maoists into yielding at least one top portfolio to the NC or UML in an eventual coalition government, there is a fear that the proposal will take on a life of its own as other players who feel threatened by the Maoists such as the Palace and Army brass — latch on to it.
Last week, the entire debate within the NC was over whether the party should join the coalition led by the Maoists or not. But when the Central Working Committee of the NC met on Thursday (24 April) to take stock of the party’s defeat, senior leaders openly challenged the Maoists’ right to lead the government.
A second ‘proposal’ that is being floated to prevent the Maoists from forming a stable government is an amendment to the interim constitution to allow the Prime Minister to be removed by simple majority.
Since the Maoists will have more than one-third of the seats in the CA, the argument goes, there will be no check should they refuse to hold elections again. The Maoist leadership rejects these arguments.
“When the interim constitution itself spells out the lifespan of the CA and mandates fresh elections within a maximum period of two years and six months, where is the question of the Maoists delaying elections?” Mr. Prachanda told The Hindu. “Would any of these proposals or formulas have been made if the NC or UML had been in our position?” he asked. “That is the true test of how valid these proposals are.”
The Maoists fear the new emphasis on the “politics of numbers” will vitiate the consensual spirit that the CA needs to write Nepal’s new constitution.
Mr. Prachanda says the electorate’s mandate is for a coalition government led by the Maoists. “This is a time when all the parties have to work together the Maoists, the NC, UML, the [Madhesi Janadhikar] Forum and others.”
Role for Koirala
Asked what role he envisaged for Mr. Koirala, Mr. Prachanda said the “guardianship” of the NC leader had been crucial in pushing the peace process and ensuring that elections to the CA were held properly. “At the same time, he has repeatedly said he wants to retire from active politics and this must also be respected. And yet, we feel some way must be found for him to continue to play the role of a guardian. My view is that given his age and his own sentiments, the proper way to honour him would not be to insist on his involvement in the government or day-to-day politics. We have to find another way of honouring him. But if he wants, we are open-minded on this,” said Mr. Prachanda. “I told him we are prepared to talk about this.”
[This article originally appeared in The Hindu.]
Talking to journalists at a tea reception hosted by newly elected CA member and NC leader Prakash Man Singh yesterday, former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba said the NC should continue to lead the coalition government.
“The Maoists are the largest single party but they don’t have the necessary majority to change the government. And the constitution says the government should be run through consensus among the seven parties. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has played a key role in bringing the peace process to this stage and in successfully holding the constituent assembly election. So we think he should lead the government in future as well.”
Koirala, who was sitting next to Deuba, seemed to approve of Deuba’s view. When asked whether he wanted to keep leading the government, the prime minister said, “We have agreed to run the government through consensus. I don’t know anything else.”
NC and UML leaders seem to be holding onto the constitutional clause that says a two-third majority is necessary to change the prime minister and want to use it to force major concessions from the Maoists even if they are ready to give the latter an opportunity to lead the government.
Ishwar Pokharel, Standing Committee member of the CPN-UML, also said the parties would seek commitment from the Maoists before extending their support. “Dissolution of the YCL, constitutional amendment to provide for the formation and ouster of a government through a simple majority, and their commitment to strictly implement past commitments are pre-conditions for our support to the Maoists,” he said.
He claimed that if the provision for a two-thirds majority to oust or form a government is not amended, the Maoists could keep on ignoring others and imposing their authoritarian rule. “We also want practical implementation of their past commitments, including return of looted property and rehabilitation of displaced people,” Pokharel said. “The Maoists have not yet changed their behaviour and are acting as if they have secured a two-third majority,” he added. Pokharel said the UML will not join the government under Maoist leadership.
Dina Nath Sharma, a senior Maoist leader, however, said it would not be sincere on the part of the parties to ignore the people’s overwhelming support in the polls for the Maoists and set conditions for supporting a Maoist-led government. “We are ready to return the property captured by our cadres during the conflict,” said Sharma. “But it should be noted that some of the leaders are unwilling to take back their property so that they can continue blaming us for capturing property.” He said the Maoists will not join the government under the leadership of any other political party. (more here)