One picture that went largely unnoticed this week was of Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai testing an indigenously-designed, low-cost electronic voting machine (pictured) which allows ballots to be cast by simply touching the election symbol of the party voters opt for. This photo-op must have been Baluwatar's way of showing that the prime minister is not an obstacle for elections.
But the manner in which Bhattarai and his party Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal are saying one thing about President Ram Baran Yadav in private, and goading their comrades and media cronies to attack him in public, reeks of hypocrisy. It also raises strong questions about their seriousness in holding elections and writing a new constitution.
Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun went as far as to accuse President Yadav of planning to stage a coup d'etat. This is a serious allegation and a deliberate effort by the ruling party to muddy the waters and amass an even bigger war chest by prolonging its time in power. It is a time-honoured tradition among the Maoists to shift the blame on a convenient scapegoat whenever intra-party dissent or criticism gets out of hand. Finance Minister Pun, therefore, was just his master's voice.
The Maoists are so insecure that they are now afraid of their own shadow, and ascribe power ambitions on a ceremonial president who has in word and deed, to a fault, stuck to the book. In fact, if any criticism had to be leveled on the president it would be that he has been too timid and not more proactive with the parties for their repeated stalling tactics. Which must be why the Maoists are working themselves up into a frenzy to mask their own failings, and to take attention away from their wholesale plunder of the government treasury. The latest example of this is the highly irregular decision to award Rs 200,000 each to recruits that UNMIN disqualified for being child soldiers. The total bill: Rs 600 million.
Bhattarai and Dahal seem to have cordial talks when they meet the president, but unleash their sidekicks to publicly denounce him for planning coups or sitting on ordinances. Interestingly, Dahal showed undue haste in meeting President Yadav on Tuesday, probably to smoothen presidential feathers that were ruffled by Pun's remarks.
It would behoove Bhattarai and Dahal not to sabre rattle in public, they need the president more than the president needs them. And the same goes for the NC, UML, and the monarchist parties, who seem to be trying their level best to try to provoke the president to make a move to oust Bhattarai. The opposition should know by now that public opinion is strongly against rocking the boat and prolonging the political uncertainty. Nepalis want the parties to stop bickering, pass the budget, and get on with preparations for elections.
The only way out of the current impasse would be to hold fresh elections, and a precursor to that is a consensual government made up of the main political players. Everything else is a delaying tactic. Working backwards from that, the least evil and most workable idea would be a formula to allow Bhattarai to keep his job, let the NC as the second biggest party have its choice of ministry (our guess is they'd pick Home), let the UML take Finance, and give the Madhesis what they want.
This would clear the block, end the paralysing uncertainty, and still meet the Election Commission's deadline to announce local and general elections by May 2013.
Writing on the wall
By the people, for the people, ANURAG ACHARYA
The prolonged political deadlock in Kathmandu is trickling down to the grassroots, and undermining community spirit