Maoists ready to compromise on most issues, but NC stick to their guns on Koirala presidency, extending the delay.
Disgruntled members of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly have begun to complain publicly about the impasse over formation of a new government. UML leader Pradip Nepal says that closed-door meetings of leaders of the three large parties over recent weeks at the prime minister’s residence have failed because of the leaders’ feudal character and unwillingness to compromise.
The leaders have “the same old mentality of imposing things,” he said on Wednesday after the third session of the assembly was postponed without doing any business. “How can one imagine that 568 elected members [sic] of the CA will accept decisions made by a handful of leaders over there?”
More than two months after elections and three weeks after the first meeting of the assembly, a new government has yet to be formed. The assembly has met only twice, briefly, both times after lengthy delays caused by last-minute political wangling.
The Maoists have the largest block of seats, 220 out of 601, but under the interim constitution, forming a government requires consensus or a two-thirds majority. Prime Minister Koirala, who had announced his retirement from politics shortly before the election, was expected to step down before the first assembly meeting but has not done so yet. The Maoists, even with support from smaller parties, cannot form a government or unseat the old one without the UML or NC, or both.
And so the Maoists have had to negotiate and compromise with the two parties, even while denouncing their demands as unfair attempts by “losers” to change the rules after the fact. Leaks from the talks suggest that the Maoists have already conceded much: government formation (and dissolution) by majority vote rather than a plurality, presidential and prime-ministerial seats to go to separate parties, and reform of some sort for their militia, the Young Communist League.
YCL reform and majority rule were the UML’s main demands. With both apparently agreed, the UML-NC front may weaken quickly. Pradip Nepal’s statement on Wednesday included a call for Koirala to resign and allow the Maoists to form a government: He is not the first UML leader to say so publicly.
But so far the NC is apparently unwilling to budge on its demand that Koirala be named president. That would please the army, who have indicated that they would not accept any Maoist as commander in chief. But there is little support for Koirala outside the NC. The UML have suggested their ex-party leader, Madhav Nepal, while the Maoists are promoting an elderly leader of the democracy movement of the 1970s and 1980s from the Terai, Ram Raja Prasad Singh. The Maoists have also said that UML leader Sahana Pradhan would be acceptable to them. She is currently Minister for Foreign Affairs.
NC student leader and assembly member Gagan Thapa wants the decision to be taken away from the leaders. “Why are the major issues not being placed before the sovereign CA? This is disrespect to the people’s revolution and the martyrs,” he said. Narhari Archarya, another NC leader, demanded that the remaining 26 members of the assembly be appointed and a president be named immediately.
Maoist member Raj Bahadur Budha asked, “Why are the leaders sidelining the CA? Call us after 6 months if we are not needed to form a government.” The MJF, the main Terai party, condemned their “exclusion” from decision-making.
The country’s largest English-language newspaper, The Himalayan Times, has editorialized repeatedly against “political conditions” for forming a new government and Koirala’s refusal to step down. On Thursday they went further, challenging the CA members to “assert their sovereign right to elect a Prime Minister and a President immediately.”
Members’ anger at their leaders and the process is unlikely to go that far, particularly since the assembly chairman, Kul Bahadur Gurung, is one of the general secretaries of the NC and has long ties to Koirala. But the public display of pique by CA members from all parties on Wednesday will increase pressure on the closed-door talks and especially on the NC and the prime minister.
John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.