To the second part first. Through last week, there has been hectic activity: Prachanda-GPK overt and covert meetings; tea parties with pictures of top leaders where the PM has had to squeeze himself in; rhetoric about a high-level mechanism (little more than a prelude to a new government). Speculation, fueled largely by overblown and inconsistent Maoist rhetoric, has hovered around the imminent demise of the present ruling arrangement.
This is all sound and fury signifying nothing, at least in the immediate future, for two reasons.
Madhav Nepal will survive for the next few months because of the TINA factor: There Is No Alternative. GPK and Jhalanath Khanal may want to oust the government, but are not in a position to carry their own parties along. The Madhesi parties, some of whom were created with blessings from down south, will not be destabilising factors, as the VP oath controversy showed. The Maoist agitation only helps the government, for they can persuade key interest groups about the unreliable, undemocratic and violent character of the former rebels, who have not undergone the required 'course correction'.
Secondly, as usual, we do not know what the Maoists want and when. Their stated aim is to form a Maoist-led government. But they also need to escalate the movement for the party's own sake--to channel the energy of the cadre that has been fed with the prospect of an andolan for the last three months. This agitation is geared to bring the Maoists back into power, not to facilitate a replacement of this regime by another. Even if Prachanda agrees to back a compromise candidate to regain some power before the party's big convention in January, others in the party will oppose it precisely because they want to see a chastened and weakened Prachanda.
The government has a reduced majority, but a shift in the numbers on a scale that will change the game is not on the cards.
But this does not mean that the present arrangement has any business being in place.
For one, it was formed for just one purpose--to keep the country's most powerful political force out of the formal power structure. The rigid anti-Maoist stance of the coalition partners stems from their dwindling political prospects on the ground. They had to team up because they could not fight the Maoists on issues, agenda, and organisation. This administration must rank as one of the most unrepresentative, amoral, weak, and corrupt (though the PM is relatively clean), reminiscent of the 1990s.
More worryingly, key constituents of this government are not only committed to 1990s-style politics, but 1990s-style institutions. That is the problem. They have signed up for state restructuring but do not want to touch the army, bureaucracy, judiciary, or form of government. Most would prefer a centralised unitary state but if federalism is inevitable, then carve out something on the lines of the old zones. They do not want land reform of any sort, and rest assured, have not spent any time on how to address caste and ethnic questions. In truth, this is a coalition of the unwilling--groups who either did not want this peace process at all, or see some of the recent structural changes as unnecessary and regret them.
Is it any surprise that the Maoists are not in a mood to cooperate? There are no incentives for them to do so.
This is not an argument for an opportunistic GPK-Prachanda alliance--a partnership only for the sake of a daughter cannot manage the transformations underway. Neither is it a plea for unilateral Maoist rule, or a right-ward presidential move.
It is a case for a broad package deal between key actors that reworks the power-sharing arrangement, deals with the nature and timing of integration, and includes an agreement on certain broad constitutional questions.
As long as the present lot is in power, that broader process will remain stuck. It is in Madhav Nepal's interest not to allow a political understanding because as soon as that happens, he will be left without a job. For now though, he can continue to enjoy the Baluwatar lawns.