Nepali Times Asian Paints


Sher Bahadur Deuba's appointment this week as prime minister for the third time is a chance to end a two-year political deadlock and make up for lost time in finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

It took nearly a month to get a successor to Surya Bahadur Thapa, and the delay prompted speculation of back channel talks between the Maoists and palace emissaries. It was reportedly after those dialogues failed that the five party alliance was asked to come up with a common candidate for premiership. But the alliance fell apart over differences between the NC and the UML on whether or not to send a nominee.

Essentially, there was no procedural difference between Deuba's appointment and that of Thapa and Lokendra Bahadur Chand before him. But analysts say where Deuba can make a difference is in showing that he can take
the parties along. To do this, paradoxically, he has to prove to them that he is not a palace pawn.

Minendra Rijal of the NC (Democratic) told us his party was taking things step by step, adding: "We are determined to get all the parties on board." But NC spokesman Arjun Narsingh KC was less upbeat: "It shows regression hasn't ended. Deuba may have been reinstated, but the people's sovereignty has not."

Piecing together the sequence of events this week, it is clear that everyone except Sher Bahadur Deuba and Speaker Taranath Ranabhat failed the royal interviews for the premier's post. At the last moment, Ranabhat put himself out of the race on Tuesday morning by refusing to resign his speaker's post as the palace insisted.
Deuba's appointment was then hastened by the surprise announcement this week that caretaker premier Thapa had, without telling anyone, extended an invitation to Indian foreign minister K Natwar Singh to visit on 4 June. A prime minister had to be found quickly before he came.

King Gyanendra decided to eat his words and reinstate a prime minister he sacked 20 months ago for "incompetence". The king risked being ridiculed by the parties, but hoped that public opinion would favour the move.

Deuba thinks his reinstatement proves once and for all he was never incompetent. As with his predecessors, the king gave Deuba a three point agenda: get the parties on board, start a peace process with the Maoists and conduct elections within the next 10 months. Given Deuba's track record during his previous two tenures, analysts are not hopeful that he can deliver.

During his second term, Deuba made the fatal blunder of terminating local bodies, which left a vacuum at the grassroots that the Maoists filled. He declared a state of emergency, dissolved parliament and announced elections he knew he couldn't hold. He was also stained by the misdeeds of his cabinet.

This time, the fact that Deuba rushed to see Girija Koirala first thing on Wednesday afternoon shows he takes the king's instructions seriously. He even broached the subject of reunification of the NC, which Koirala did not reject outright because it would help him deal with the UML.

The UML itself has fallen out with Koirala and is waiting for his next move before deciding on a common minimum program and whether to accept Deuba's invitation for support at a central committee meeting on Friday. But for now, the parties are still adopting a hardline stance because they do not want to alienate radicalised students on
the streets who will need time to cool down.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)