Calling All Bluffs in Nepal

Nepal’s Political Deadlock

Nepal’s President Yadav has taken a careful half step towards resolving the country’s political deadlock by inviting all parties to submit the name of a consensus candidate for prime minister.

By doing so he has clearly indicated that he considers the caretaker coalition to have failed in its duty to hold elections, and that a new government is required. But he has also refrained so far from dismissing the government and replacing it, a move that would have produced broad criticism and perhaps an unstable situation.

Ordering a New Government

Legal scholars differ on whether the interim constitution allows the president that power, though most agree that he can order a new government in the absence of a sitting parliament, as long as there is widespread agreement on its makeup.

Predictably the ruling coalition has reacted strongly, calling the president’s move unconstitutional and likening it to the action of King Gyanendra when he dismissed parliament in May 2002.

But almost everyone else in Nepal’s political spectrum is delighted: Their demand for a new government before any elections seems likely to be fulfilled, if they can indeed produce a candidate for PM who has multi-party backing.

Maoists Willing to Unseat Prime Minister?

Even Maoists appear willing to unseat their own prime minister. The Maoists are the most deeply divided party in Nepal. Their hardline faction left the party this fall to form its own party, and the remaining Maoists are split between backers of the party chief, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and Prime Minister Bhatterai’s faction.

Dahal and Bhatterai have been bitter rivals for many years, beginning with disagreements on tactics during the ten-year insurrection. Their rivalry has only strengthened since the Maoists gave up armed struggle in 2006. Dahal apparently believes that he can use the president’s action to play kingmaker, weaken his intra-party rival, and look statesmanlike to both Nepalis and diplomats.

Calling Many Bluffs

The president’s careful move has effectively called many bluffs at once. The Congress party, also split into three factions, will be forced to name a candidate. They have failed to do so over many months because all three top leaders covet the position and loathe each other. Now the party will have to put up or shut up.

The UML party had agreed in principle to support a Congress candidate. They will now be pressed to own up to that agreement, despite the temptation to put forward their own candidate.

PM Bhatterai’s bluff to stay on until new elections now seems empty. Indeed, his ambitions may have been even higher. Local media reports say that he told his staff privately that he intended to be prime minister for the next decade. And the rivalry between the two Maoist factions will come to a head, with Dahal openly supporting Bhatterai’s removal.

Resisting President’s Call to The End

Bhatterai’s Maoist faction and the members of the southern bloc who are in his coalition government can be expected to resist the president’s call to the end. But if the other parties (including Dahal’s Maoist faction) can agree on a name, the president will likely dismiss Bhatterai and appoint a new prime minister.

That will not mean smooth sailing for Nepal. The ousted leaders are sure to try to block a new government. But it is at least an opportunity to move forward.

If the parties in opposition however cannot agree, the president’s position will become even more difficult. It’s a gamble: Calling a bluff always is.

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