For eight months since the Constituent Assembly’s unceremonious end in May, opposition parties, especially the Nepali Congress, have been on the offensive against Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and his party with these charges: Bhattarai´s has proven to be among the most corrupt governments the country has ever had. He killed the most inclusive body in the country’s history and started a new era of misrule. Besides his attempt to capture state power, he has given free rein to nepotism, favoritism and impunity. But the most important fact about the current government is that neither the PM nor his party wants election.
NC’s success in future polity depends on whether it will be able to make the above-mentioned allegations stick and conversely, whether UCPN (Maoist) will be able to come up with convincing rebuttals. For the moment, it appears the atmosphere is conducive for NC to go to polls, even if it means conceding some ground in negotiations.
The PM is in no mood to relinquish power any time soon unless the opposition parties allow him a graceful exit, as is clear from his new conditions on Monday. In his view, NC and UML should join his government for a short period, agree to meaningful end of the peace process and to institute commissions stipulated in the interim constitution as well as to amend the electoral laws. These conditions have stalled consensus no doubt, but they can prove to be blessings in disguise for NC. The truth is whether we will have elections in April/May will largely depend on if NC is ready to take some risks.
The failure to reach consensus by Monday is not the end of the world for NC. NC should take the PM’s bait and take back its claim to government leadership for once, to give the last benefit of the doubt to the PM. It should then join the Bhattarai government with a condition. It should agree to institutionalize the achievements of CA, in return for making the Maoists accept settlement of contentious constitutional issues like form of governance and number and names of the federal provinces through new CA or national referendum.
Once NC joins in, this government will get a semblance of consensus. Then neither the PM, nor the Maoist party can dilly-dally on polls. If they do, it will be proven the PM and his party do not really want to face election but only want to hold the country hostage by sticking to power indefinitely. If this happens, the NC should pull out at once. This will give a clear message to the people that NC is not against polls and that UCPN (Maoist) and the ruling coalition are indeed on the path of state capture. Besides, it will also prove that NC has no other interest than breaking the current logjam and going for election. This, in turn, will help NC win huge public support.
This will also prepare the ground for opposition parties to garner mass support for protests, if they take this route. One reason the protests have failed in the past is because a large number of people are still ready to give the PM and the Maoist party the benefit of doubt. They believe the PM is for polls; and it is the opposition parties’ claim of government leadership that is the main stumbling block. The other reason why people are not against the PM is because of his strategy of admitting to his weaknesses. On and off, he concedes that he has failed to curb corruption. He admits that he has been among the weakest leaders; he also claims to understand people’s frustrations and says he has no intention of clinging to power. But with new turn of events, people will see through the PM’s real intention and side with the opposition to oust him. In the end, the PM will either have to step aside or agree to polls unconditionally.
Whether there will be election in April/May depends on if NC is ready to take some risks.
NC, then, will have an edge over the Maoist party in the next polls. The past four years have seriously weakened the Maoist hold on grassroots. Labor organization members are defecting party establishment and joining Mohan Baidya’s CPN-Maoist. Frustration is rife among ex-PLAs and disqualified members. They look ready to pounce on top leaders if the leadership remains apathetic to their miserable condition (see Kiran Pun’s Hard done, Dec. 18). Given this state, they are unlikely to vote the establishment back to power. Also, the longer the Maoists cling to power, the more disenchanted its supporters and cadres will be.
In this case, NC can face the people with greater confidence, especially since it has been away from power for the past four years. Japan’s recent election results could be a lesson for NC. The Liberal Democratic Party, widely blamed for Japan’s current predicament, made a comeback with a sweeping majority in Sunday’s election. One of the secrets to this success has been its long absence from power. NC is in a similar situation in Nepal. Out of power since 2008, it will be hard to blame NC for corruption, misrule, impunity and price hikes, among other problems which have made living hard for the people.
People are not going to vote for UCPN (Maoist) unless it mends its undemocratic ways or can revive its grassroots by reuniting with CPN-Maoist. But either prospect looks grim so long as the current coalition is in place. Maoist party remains fractured both at the grassroots and the center. While at the center Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and PM Bhattarai factions look deeply divided, cadres and supporters feel betrayed by the luxurious lifestyles of party leaders even as they struggle to manage two meals a day.
All this has prepared a conducive ground for NC. But not if it is not ready to abandon complacency and make itself appealing to a mass beyond its elite base. Ideally, it should appeal to traditional NC voters who catapulted Maoists to power in 2008. It should return to villages and impress on the people that NC is really committed to addressing their issues. As this scribe argued in one of his previous articles, unless the party can take the perspiring class into confidence, the next election, whenever it is, won’t benefit it much.
The Maoists have been claiming that NC does not want to face the people. NC retorts that it is Maoists who lack the guts to face polls. People want to know whether it is UCPN (Maoist) or NC that is afraid of them. NC will lose nothing if takes some calculated risks to prove its point.