Nepal and Federalist 10

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Nepal is back to square one politically, just where it was more than six months ago when PM Nepal stood down. (Just for the record, I stand by my prediction of last August about how things will eventually come out. How Nepal’s Political Standoff Will End )

The problem as always in Nepal is faction. One of America’s founding fathers, James Madison, wrote about the dangers of faction in 1787, when the new American constitution was facing ratification. He defined the problem as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The parties are each riven by their own interest rather than by “the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” It’s all the worse that each of the parties is driven by faction internally.

Two generations before Marx, Madison wrote that, “the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.”

In Nepal’s context, substitute “political power” (and, of course, the “property” that it brings). A unified Maoist party would be far better off in negotiations with the other parties, but the Dahal faction – the “haves” – have to contend with the “have-not” Bhatterai faction. The Congress infighting is so severe that it’s weak president, Sushil Koirala, hasn’t filled his party slate of officers four months after his election, have-nots against have-nots. And the UML as always is divided into two bitterly opposed camps, neither of which has a firm position on anything except that they want to have it all.

So Maoist leader Prachanda would hand over the prime ministership he desperately wants rather than see his arch-rival Bhatterai get the post. The caretaker PM is doing his best to give the post to the NC rather than let his internal opponent, Jhalanath Khanal, cut a deal with the Maoists for the job. And NC Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala, snubbed by both NC factions, says she supports Khanal.

In every case we see the parties’ faction leaders expressing stronger support for another party’s faction than for their internal adversaries.

Madison wrote that there are three ways to control the problem of faction. The first, the ending of the peoples’ rights, he dismisses out of hand. We hope that all of Nepal’s factions have done so as well. The second way, he said, is to create consensus, “a society homogeneous in opinions and interests.” That idea he dismisses as being impossible.

Madison’s conclusion was that the only workable way to resolve factional disputes is representative democracy. His prescription for Nepal’s prime-ministerial impasse would be simple: put it to a vote of the elected representatives of the people.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.