According to the May 3 five-point agreement between four major political forces, Nepali Congress was to get the leadership of the consensus government to be formed after the promulgation of the constitution on May 27, 2012. But since there was no constitution by May 27, there have been differing interpretations of the agreement. As the wrangling over the resignation of the Baburam Bhattarai-led government drags on, the country’s constitutional and political crisis seems to be deepening. Meanwhile, Nepali Congress is caught up in a bitter rivalry between Party President Sushil Koirala and Senior Leader Sher Bahadur Deuba. Biswas Baral and Kosh Raj Koirala spoke with Nepali Congress leader Narahari Acharya about the Koirala-Deuba rivalry, the party’s role in national polity and the way out of the current crisis.
The gulf between the Koirala and Deuba factions seems to be widening by the day. Can you enlighten us on the current situation inside the party?
First, we have to accept that the working procedure of Party President (Sushil Koirala) is a little faulty. But one of the big problems of Sher Bahadur Deuba is that his unexpected losses in two elections (for party presidency and for head of NC constitutional party) have made him more assertive at all levels. The president may have been able to resolve the differences with a right working procedure. After the 12th General Convention in 2010, Koirala didn’t show any urgency in addressing important issues in the party. I believe Koirala felt a little insecure on some issues. Another important thing is that Deuba might have had some kind of gentlemen’s agreement with Girija Prasad Koirala. But there is now no body to implement these agreements. Even Sushil Koirala might not have been aware of Girja Prasad’s agreements with Deuba. Now Deuba is saying that he had such and such agreement with Girija Prasad but Sushil Koirala says that the problems should be solved through legitimate party channels.
The Koirala faction has accused the Deuba faction of hindering party’s functioning while the Deuba faction alleges Koirala faction of running the party in a dictatorial manner and trying to undermine Deuba’s role. In this acrimonious climate, how can the party move ahead?
Deuba is a rival of the party president in many ways. No one wants his main rival to be very successful. Thus I take this allegation of Deuba faction as apolitical. It is the job of the central working committee to make decisions on new departments. But the president retains the right to appoint office bearers of the departments in existence. I agree that there are some grey areas in the party constitution, but it is the CWC’s prerogative to define those grey areas. Now that the CWC has thrown some light on these grey areas I don’t see the rationale of pointing at the shortcomings in the constitution. Koirala is at a fault on insisting on his right to appoint new department heads while Deuba is wrong in faulting the chairman on appointment of department heads.
The ruling Maoist-Madhesi coalition has asked opposition parties to finalize their prime ministerial candidate before talks can move ahead. Given the internal wrangling in Congress, will the party be able to field a consensus candidate?
We have been asking the three main candidates for prime primeministership—party chair Koirala, senior leader Deuba and parliamentary party leader Ram Chandra Poudel—that either the three of them sit together to find a solution, or if they can’t settle on a candidate, let other party leaders settle the issue.
Senior Congress leader Ram Saran Mahat has said that if the three can’t settle the issue, other leaders in the party can provide a way out.
Even when there was the legislature, I had been saying that if we are to find a replacement for NC parliamentary party head Ram Chandra Poudel, we have to look beyond Sushil Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba. Thus, either the three have to decide among themselves what responsibilities each will have, or if they fail to do so, it should be decided by CWC. If that happens, I believe solutions can be found in a matter of days.
The Maoists have been asking the opposition parties to field a consensus candidate as an alternative to PM Bhattarai. How has Congress taken this demand?
Prachanda’s views are neither clear, nor have they been expressed in good faith. Still, if NC is to claim that it can provide an alternative to the current prime minister, it is natural for those outside the party to expect the party to put forth a clear candidate. If there was a parliament, we could have submitted a motion of no confidence against the prime minster. Since there is no parliament, the party has to make public the name of its PM candidate. But the issue of change in government is only one among many issues. It is wrong to believe that there can be no progress on important issues without a change in government. Okay, the prime minister is a caretaker, but the reason no progress has been made on government front is that we have not been able to decide on a process for the election of new prime minister. This process has to be agreed among major parties. Once such a process is decided, each party can lobby for a particular candidate. But until the time such a process is decided, even the resignation of current government is unlikely to break the impasse. NC has to be able to say that if there is consensus on its leadership of government it will carry out certain tasks. For instance, what it will do on the constitution front and on other important national issues.
So what in your view is the way out of the current political and constitution crisis?
We need the support of at least UCPN (Maoist) for a change in government. Without the Maoists on board, the current government cannot be changed on the basis of political consultations and dialogue alone. Either we have to be able to find meeting points between NC and Maoists. But if we say, no we will support Maoist government leadership, we have to clearly lay our expectations of the government. The deadlock cannot be broken on the sole basis of resignation of the current government. The main problem with NC at this point is that it has only a single agenda. But how will the government be changed? We have not settled on an appropriate procedure. If the president is to form a new government, the political parties will have to knock on his doors with a consensus candidate. The president is in no position to go at it alone. Thus, there has to be consensus for government change and a definite process for the formation of new government.
What is the party’s stand on the role of the president in the current situation?
So long as we are ready to follow the interim constitution, the president’s role is purely constitutional. But the situation now is a little different. The government has to seek the parliament’s approval to carry out its duties. But at the moment there is no parliament. Since the government has been unsuccessful in carrying out the election it announced for November 22, it can be said that it has been a failure. In this situation, it has to accept its failing and make way. But the major bone of contention now is not the government’s resignation, but what should replace it. This is the reason the caretaker government has continued in office.
How do you take the opposition parties’ claim that the president should play a more proactive role to resolve the current crisis?
Since there is no parliament, the president has by default a greater say in governance. The president’s refusal to sign the two election-related ordinances was not unconstitutional. I believe he is well aware of his limitations as a constitutional president. Thus he has not taken the initiative to form a new government. But since there is no parliament, in many situations the president has to carry out the tasks formerly carried out by the parliament.
Sher Bahadur Deuba has been advocating the path of reinstatement of the parliament as the only way out. Is that a viable option?
There has to be a political decision even for the reinstatement of parliament. There is no legal way for such reinstatement. But there is a little problem: The body that expired on May 27 was not just a parliament, it was also a Constituent Assembly. Since the CA was dissolved, the body which had a parliamentary role was also gone with it. Hence it is not as easy as it was to reestablish the parliament in 2006. It will create its own set of difficulties. Who will decide on its term? Who will take the decision for such reinstatement? Again, there has to be political consensus. The parties that commanded two-third majority in the dissolved house have to agree to it. This is one of the reasons the president’s hands are tied. If there was two-third backing for any candidate, he would in all likelihood have stepped forward to remove difficulties as prescribed by interim constitution.
How have you seen the emergence of various alliances, given that Nepali Congress is also reportedly trying to bring together an alliance of like-minded democratic forces?
There is nothing wrong in formation of political alliances. But the manner alliances are coming into being, that will not provide a way out of the current crisis. The current Maoist-Madhesi alliance, in the aftermath of the break-up of UCPN (Maoist), does not even command a simple majority in the dissolved CA. If NC, UML and UCPN (Maoists) come on the same platform, then there can be some progress.
Deuba is a rival of party president in many ways. No one wants his main rival to be very successful.
In the current situation, what kind of role do you envision for Congress?
I believe the party cannot move ahead with the sole agenda of resignation of the current government. It has to be able to spell out clear alternatives. It has to put forth a clear candidate for consensus government and clearly outline the party’s position on the contentious constitutional issues. What is its view on form of federalism, on system of governance and on the electoral system? It has to be clear on at least these three fronts. Only when these two conditions are fulfilled will there be meaningful dialogue.
You are also a member of the party’s Bhim Bahadur Tamang-led committee on identity-based provinces. What is the party’s official stand on this issue?
The committee came to a conclusion that Nepal’s federal setup should be such that it addresses the issue of identity but at the same time also removes the prospect of communal violence (pahichan bhetine, jatiya dwanda metine). This is the party’s official stand. The problem of late has been the misinterpretation of identity as only based on ethnicity. Our proposal is aimed at addressing this question. We have outlined 17 ways on how to address the issue of identity in the new constitution.