Parliament has not met for a month. The government has less than three weeks to get two important ordinances (one to set up a paramilitary force to combat the Maoists) passed by the House. Two ministers jumped ship this week, the remaining spend more time politicking nervously than governing. The country is effectively at a standstill. And even if the house impasse is resolved, there is the faction within the ruling party spoiling for a fight. Prime Minister Girija Koirala is running out of options.
For its part, the main opposition UML is squeezed between the Nepali Congress and the Maoists, and has a single-point agenda: get rid of Girija. For the UML this was never really about alleged hanky-panky in the Lauda Air lease, it is about grandstanding and blocking the armed police ordinance which would benefit the Maoists, and make the Army glad. But who is using whom?
Koirala's departure will not necessarily mean the UML's ascent to power, he will be replaced by another NC prime minister and the UML would not gain much. Still, the UML's Ishwor Pokhrel is upbeat: "We've got hold of the leg, and we won't let go until we pull everything out in the open." Pokhrel is a member of the UML's new task force entrusted with toppling the prime minister. The UML believes the Maoist insurgency can only be contained by immediate and radical measures (which it want to work out), and that is why the prime minister has to go.
Koirala is said to be reconciled to leaving his post-he would still wield considerable king-making powers in the NC as party president. And it must be tempting to let someone else hold the lightning rod of the prime ministerial post in these trying times. But he does not want to resign and needs a face-saving way out. "How can I resign when the CIAA has not even questioned me," Koirala told close aides this week while he tried to speak in parliament. The NC having a huddle on Sunday of all 113 MPs, upper house members and district leaders to strategise about the course of action. "This is all the result of our our internal tussle, and we are going to resolve it once and for all," one Congress insider told us.
If Koirala does not resign what options does he have? He could go for a confidence vote in parliament if the UML lets him, he could call mid-term polls, or he could "step aside". Koirala has sounded out his rivals in the Congress, but they hate him dearly and don't want to give him an easy parachute. Last week Koirala and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, his septuagenarian adversary, tried to smoke the peace pipe at Bhaisepati. Witnesses said everyone talked in circles, nothing was resolved. As Sunday is being put forward as a make-or-break session, things may be different there. "The solution has to be found within the party," agrees Hom Nath Dahal, Nepali Congress MP from the rebel faction. His group is discussing resignation, or nothing. Chiranjibi Wagle from the rebel camp is uncompromising: "We're saying if resignation is the only solution, then don't wait, go."
So, to recap: the opposition UML has deadlocked parliament, and the Congress rebels have deadlocked the party, and what this means is that the whole country is deadlocked.
The Girija-go campaign has led to interesting realignments in the major opposition parties. The centre-right RPP's radical wing is led by Pashupati Sumsher Rana and Rabindra Nath Sharma, and not its leader Surya Bahadur Thapa. Even the UML is said to have fissures-between general secretary Madhav Nepal who is more hard-line than next-in-line Khadga Prasad Oli.
The question is: are the anti-Girija forces working together? And if so, is there a "hidden hand" that wants him out? How else would one explain these strange bedfellows working together for so long? One way to find out is to seek motive. The UML cannot hope to come to power by bringing down Koirala-all they want is to stall the Armed Police Force ordinance, which the king took three months to sign, and which was supposed to be ratified by the winter session. "Because the king took so long to reluctantly approve the ordinance, maybe even the Royal Palace and the Army want the bill to die quietly in parliament," a political analyst who did not want to be named told us. The ordinance will cease to exist if it fails to get parliamentary approval.
The other wild card is the India factor. What does New Delhi want? Koirala gets along with an older generation of Indian leaders, but foreign policymakers in New Delhi and second-echelon BJP cadre have not hidden their disdain for him. And then there is China, whose defence minister gave the message last month in Kathmandu that it doesn't want to see a re-incarnated Mao Zedong in its backyard. Both new Delhi and Beijing see political instability in Nepal as feeding the insurgency and want our rulers to get their act together.By now we have seen Nepal governed by two "majority" Congress governments led by Bhattarai and Koirala. Internal rifts prevented both from moving past first base. That feud is still
on, dragging the party down, and the country with it.