It has been six weeks since Prime Minister M. K. Nepal resigned, and Nepal’s Constituent Assembly today postponed indefinitely a fifth attempt to elect a replacement to the post. The reason given was the death of a Maoist member of the assembly: In truth Nepal’s parties wanted to avoid yet another failed election.
The PM election is a clear sign of the lack of consensus among the three major parties and the substantial voting block of assembly members from Nepal’s south. Even more difficult, each of the four major players is riven by faction and barely holds together internal policy consensus. None can shift its policy significantly without the ruling faction losing control of the party.
Pressure on the parties is growing as the stalemate drags on, and the principle-free center-left UML party is feeling the heat the most. They have taken a “principled position” of abstaining from the PM elections until some candidate can demonstrate a two-thirds majority. That should have given them the power to be kingmaker.
Instead, the UML is stuck because they can’t agree on whom to crown. The party is about to experience a political earthquake over the issue, as the Maoists pull the left faction out of the party.
The deal in the works is for the Maoist candidate and party leader Prachanda to withdraw from the election, and for the Maoists and the left faction of the UML to announce a “consensus” government to be led by the left faction’s head, Jalanath Khanal.
This Left Bloc will claim a majority in the Assembly with the Maoists, their allies, and about sixty percent of the UML. Perhaps the whole UML will support Khanal, despite protestations from the centrist wing. Even if they do, the centrist faction will be pushed out of power.
While Prachanda will be grieved not to return to the PM’s office, he will have significant consolation in breaking up the UML, in keeping his faction in charge of his own party, and in bagging many powerful and lucrative ministries.
The Left Bloc will have to do some parliamentary maneuvering to get Khanal’s name into the vote – current rules don’t allow for a new candidate. The Nepali Congress party’s candidate can complicate matters by refusing to stand down, but the Left Bloc will have enough votes to form a new government.
They may even be able to put together a plurality if the centrists in the UML and the southern voting block support them in return for influence and jobs. That would not only break the current standoff but could pave the way for a new constitution by next spring.