Nepali Times
By The Way
Brinkmanship doesn't work



Hope is fading for a concrete political settlement on elections and the electoral government before the festive season starts next week. But the good news is that no matter how strong the rhetoric, the parties will keep coming back to the table.

When the Comprehensive Peace Accord of 2006 was signed, it was agreed by all political parties that the basic characteristics of Nepali politics until the new constitution is written would be consensual. So despite the disagreements, the parties are doomed to having to agree with each other.

Six years of consensual politics have transformed a guerrilla party into a civilian party, not only moderated their totalitarian ambitions but forced them into accepting basic tenets of competitive politics, even at the cost of splitting the party.

There are sufficient reasons for the people to feel betrayed by the leaders in the last six years, but there are also reasons to be hopeful that Nepali society has changed for the better. Never before was society fractured politically and socially as now, but neither had the social and political consciousness peaked to this level before.

There is not just an overwhelming awareness about rights and belonging among Nepalis, even the political class is questioning traditional loyalties and is increasingly critical of patronising political figureheads within the parties. The Janajati dissent within the NC and UML, the revolt within the Maoists against corruption, as well as the cross-party caucus in the ex-CA are indications that the political landscape of the country will not be the same in coming days as institutions become stronger than individuals.

Before its dissolution, the debates in the CA and interim legislature had helped a Kathmandu-centred leadership to gauge the political mood outside their limited coterie. But since then they have become a disoriented lot who find it difficult to connect to the masses, and are jeered when they go out to the districts.

The meeting called by top leaders this week with ex-lawmakers and other party leaders at the dissolved CA building in New Baneswor was another indication that they are not sure about what they negotiate behind closed doors anymore. This is actually good news for Nepali politics, and the media has an important role to play in pressurising the leaders to make future negotiations more inclusive and transparent.

As the nation gets into festive mood this month, Sushil Koirala, Jhalanath Khanal and Pushpa Kamal Dahal have a lot to think about as they take time off. The political constellation has changed in the last six months with various Dalit, Janajati, and Madhesi groups asserting themselves in a more organised political alliance. They must not ignore these changes, and use the opportunity to engage more with diverse political constituencies before returning to the table next month.

It is not unusual for leaders to seek power or passionately stand for their vision of what is in the best interest of the country and the people. But they should learn from the disastrous brinkmanship of the past and acknowledge that without engaging with the larger constituency in a spirit of compromise and flexibility future negotiations will fail.

The opposition must understand that even if the Maoists agree, the new government cannot be formed unless there is a pre-agreement on outstanding issues of the constitution with other stakeholders. If the next government is given a mandate to hold elections, there must first be an agreement about its purpose.

Similarly, the Maoists must also engage with the Baidya-led splinter of the Maoists and the Madhesi Front with the newly-formed alliance led by Upendra Yadav. As a party in the government it is also their duty to play a facilitating role among the parties while holding talks with the Dalit, Janajati, and the Madhesi groups.

The parties must keep all options open, including CA revival, since socio-political polarisation persists and they have not been able to convince the people that elections will be peaceful or that it will necessarily facilitate constitution drafting.

The leaders tried talking at each other and failed miserably, may be now they will talk with each other to look for a settlement.

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)