Crunch Time for the Opposition in Nepal

Nepal’s Maoist prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Prachanda, resigned on May 4th after his attempt to sack the army chief was overturned by Nepal’s president, who is the army commander in chief under the interim constitution. Since then the Maoists have been a destructive opposition, trying to render the country ungovernable in hopes of returning to power.

Their primary tactic has been to block all attempts to convene the Constituent Assembly, which is charged with writing a new constitution and serves as the interim parliament. With the slogan “civilian supremacy,” they insist on an assembly resolution to condemn the president’s action as unconstitutional.

The Nepali Congress party is dead set against such a motion in principle and also points out that under the interim constitution, presidential actions are not subject to legislative review. The UML has a less clear and less decisive position (which should surprise no one), but they want to keep UML leader Madhav Nepal as prime minister and retain control of the powerful ministries held by UML stalwarts in the current government.

The NC and UML have offered compromises that include changes to the laws governing the army and a resolution favoring civilian supremacy, but they have not been willing to concede the Maoist demand to censure the president. The stalemate has been prolonged, and meanwhile the peace process has stalled, progress on the constitution has been minimal, and the proposed national budget remains undiscussed and unimplemented.

That has not bothered the Maoists at all, so far. Failure of the current government, they believe, strengthens their position and makes a new government, under their control of course, more likely.

But the impasse will soon turn to their disadvantage on one critical point. With no budget and no opportunity to pass an interim funding resolution, the government is running out of money. Without funds, allowances and food for the cantonments holding Maoist PLA soldiers will dry up. That would strengthen the hand of Maoist hardliners and might cost Prachanda and other (relatively) moderate Maoist leaders their jobs.

Without government rations and cash, the PLA is likely to leave the camps. That in turn would destroy all the progress of recent years and perhaps even reignite Nepal’s civil war. Many in the Maoist party would be pleased by that, but it would discredit Prachanda, Baburam Bhatterai and most of the party central committee, who have staked their positions on a more moderate course.

And so the Maoist leadership faces a crunch that will require compromise with the other parties, not in the national interest but for their own self-preservation. As the largest party in the Constituent Assembly the Maoists hold a strong hand, for no constitution can be promulgated without them and, as they have clearly demonstrated, no government can be effective in the face of their opposition. But they will now need to relent, at least a little, to get the political game started again before they can play any of the cards they hold.

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

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