Running Out of Time in Nepal

Elections in Nepal

On the day that elections in Nepal were to be held, rumors circulated that caretaker Prime Minister Baburam Bhatterai would resign. Instead he addressed the nation with conciliatory words but a defiant attitude.

When the twice-extended Constituent Assembly that functioned as both parliament and a constitution-writing body expired at the end of May, Bhatterai had announced elections for November 22. The move quickly became a political football, with opposition parties joining together to block elections.

That was easy enough to do because new elections will require at least a brief revival of the CA to amend the interim constitution, which has no provision for an election prior to promulgating a new constitution. The opposition parties hold more than enough votes to prevent any amendment.

Calls for Consensus

The interim constitution calls for consensus: Indeed it venerates the concept. This is a holdover from the brief period in 2005 and 2006 when all of Nepal’s parties joined together to unseat King Gyanendra, who had seized control of the government in 2004.

But consensus is vanishingly rare in Nepal’s contentious politics, so rare that one diplomatic observer quipped that it is just like the Yeti – everyone believes in it but no one has ever seen it. Consensus is especially difficult here because most politicians understand it to mean that the other side gives up its position completely. “Compromise” would have been a more reasonable and more democratic ideal.

With the failure to hold elections on the 22nd, whatever legitimacy the caretaker government had, has vanished, and calls for Bhatterai’s resignation will be accompanied by increasingly vigorous demonstrations from the opposition, with no compromise likely.

Country Drifts Without Direction

Meanwhile the country drifts without direction, local government bodies remain without elected officials, and vacancies in Nepal’s courts and administrative bodies are unfilled.

Nepalis joke that at least there is no government to screw things up, but the jest rings hollow. The situation is dire: Nepal is approaching a cliff that makes the US budget crisis look mild.

Under the interim constitution Nepal’s president is empowered, according to some political pundits, to dismiss Bhatterai and form a new government. Last week President Yadav threatened to take decisive action if the parties could not reach some agreement by November 22.

Doing so, however, poses a grave political risk that the ousted coalition members – the centrist Maoist faction and members of the southern block of parties – will react by blocking any constitutional amendment to enable elections.

“Muddling Along” Through Political Difficulties

Nepal has a long tradition of “muddling along” through political difficulties, barely avoiding each impending train wreck. This time however, Nepal’s leaders appear to be asleep at the switch.

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