The debate over the presidency has stretched on for so long because the NC and UML think of it not merely as a ceremonial post, but one that can balance the Maoists. However, it is the way in which the new government is formed and portfolios allocated which will have even more significance and long-lasting consequences on the ground.
Yes, the two processes are interlinked and it will all be a part of a packaged deal. Who becomes the head of state is inextricably linked with who joins the government in what capacity.
If the NC gives up the presidency, it will drive a hard bargain later for plum portfolios. If the Maoists let Koirala stay on, they will extract the maximum concessions claiming to be the biggest party, as well as for having been flexible on other fronts.
After being perceived as an establishment party despite rarely having had a decisive say in state affairs, the UML is reluctant to join the government. But it remains to be seen whether they can resist the temptation and pressure when the chorus of a national government picks up.
The MJF is divided on the issue. Upendra Yadav has sent out feelers for the deputy prime-ministership, but he will have to convince other central committee members that joining the government-and collaborating with Maoists-will not mean losing their base in the Tarai. He may therefore demand the incorporation of a few Madhes-related clauses in an agreement or as a part of an amendment. The TMLP will wait for Indian instructions.
But there is one lesson all the other parties must learn from the Maoists. During the past year, Maoist ministers used their departments to consolidate as well as contribute to their party's electoral success. The party was supreme and the ministries provided the means to make the party stronger. It is obviously not the right thing to do, because one is a minister for the country and not for one's party.
Krishna Bahadur Mahara's control of the state media through the information ministry gave the Maoists a free and influential propaganda machine. Hisila Yami's control of infrastructure allowed the party to reach out selectively on the ground and project itself as sincere in facilitating basic amenities. Indeed, this week she took a group of journalists around town to show them improvements. Pampha Bhusal at the ministry of women, children and social welfare was in a position to provide handouts as well as influence INGOs through control of the Social Welfare Council. Matrika Yadav may rant against corruption in his ministry, but the forest department helped generate campaign funds.
But it was through Deb Gurung's handling of the Ministry of Local Development that the party benefited the most. The real battle for the new Nepal is being fought at the VDC level. Before the ceasefire, the Maoists had hegemony over most of these areas anyway. Now through legitimate control of the state apparatus, ably assisted by a violence-prone cadre, the party has only become stronger on the ground.
In contrast, Sher Bahadur Deuba was happy to get his crony the lucrative ministry of water resources. The only achievement of the UML-controlled education ministry was the appointment of vice-chancellors in the universities. Sahana Pradhan did little to professionalise the foreign service. Madhesi ministers were thrilled with their monopoly on industries and supplies and used it to dole out licenses.
There is a danger that the debate over ministries will get stuck around home, finance, defence and foreign. The home ministry is especially important, given the state of lawlessness in the country. But the other parties should realise that they can change things on the ground, and enhance their credibility, through other departments as well. Learn from the Maoists if you want to beat them.