Nepalis welcomed the New Year with the hope of better days ahead for the country. There is a sense of cautious optimism that 2013 would be more conducive for meaningful political change, or clearing away the obstacles to federal republican constitution that guarantees equal participation of all sections of the society in state affairs. But such an outcome will be possible only when all major political forces come to the same page. Belying people’s expectations is the fact that parties don’t seem to have internalized the need for consensus without any further ado. Three days of the latest five-day extension for consensus issued by the President passed by without the parties sitting down even for a single meeting.
Nepali Congress and CPN-UML continue to believe that Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is the single biggest hurdle to a breakthrough, after his now famous backtracking from a feasible agreement on the table two weeks ago. Opposition leaders believe talks would be meaningless so long as the prime minister does not abandon his ‘childish stubbornness’ and gives up his self-serving power calculations. Bhattarai should understand that Constituent Assembly polls (if he actually wants them) would be impossible without power-sharing among all the major political forces. But his reluctance to step down precludes this prospect, and his new-found lust for power raises serious doubts about his democratic credentials.
There have been some initiatives form Bhattarai of late, but they remain a suspect. For instance, on Wednesday, the prime minister visited senior CPN-UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal’s residence, and floated the proposal of an independent candidate heading election government. We have no problem with this option, if it can help break the current logjam and there is assurance that a government under a neutral candidate will be able to hold CA polls by April-May. But this option looks unfeasible as opposition parties remain stubbornly opposed to this option because they smell another Maoist ploy to prolong the tenure of current coalition.
We also believe that the best way forward is still finding a consensus candidate from among the major parties, preferably Nepali Congress. As the new consensus government will have representatives from all major parties with proportional sharing of ministries, there is very little chance of NC (or UML or any other party) by itself being able to defer polls or using public offices to garner more votes during the upcoming election. But as things stand, things don’t look good: Election Commission has made it clear that if there is no breakthrough by January 9, it will be extremely hard to hold polls by May.
In this situation, the sooner Prime Minister Bhattarai makes way, the better the chances of consensus and timely Assembly polls. If there are no polls by May, the stage would be set for the regressive forces, that were always against progressive changes to make a comeback, and there have already been some dangerous signs that is not just a fanciful conjecture. This should be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, a breakthrough right at the beginning of New Year would be a perfect gift for the Nepali people who have had to suffer long and hard, even after this historic changes post-2006