20-26 December 2013 #686

Wrong mechanism

Nothing has changed after the elections: the four-party syndicate is repeating history as a farce

When the four-party cartel made up of the Nepali Congress, UML, the Maoists, and the Madhesi Front agreed on their 11-point deal last February to end the political deadlock, they envisioned a mechanism to short circuit decision-making. Clause 2 of the deal that was struck states that a High Level Political Committee would be made up of top leaders of the four forces to ‘hold timely elections, work towards a consensus among the political parties, consult with and advise the interim electoral council …’

Nowhere in that agreement does it state that the HLPC would be resurrected after elections. A new mandate from the people does not mean going back to an antiquated and obsolete agreement by miraculously bringing the mechanism back from the dead. Far from forging a consensus, as is argued, the HLPC prolongs the political uncertainty and adds insult to injury to the results of the 19 November elections.

It is clear that the UCPN (M) was for reviving the HLPC because it meant the party could maintain its dominating influence over political decision-making despite its stinging electoral rebuke. For the NC and UML, as the two largest parties, the committee has become a convenient way to buy time to paper over mutual differences over power-sharing. It is a shame that the two biggest democratic forces should choose this undemocratic path just because they can’t agree on the formation of a new government. The Nepali public dutifully went to vote when asked to and gave the parties another chance to prove themselves. But the NC and UML are showing the same irresponsibility that we have come to expect of them.

All the political parties, from the Maoist left to the royalist right, are facing severe internal pressures from cadre to be included in the Proportional Representation lists of their parties. A process that was designed to make the new Constituent Assembly more inclusive has become a cynical exercise for the pursuit of allowances and other perks of CA membership. The HLPC has become a convenient way for the party leadership to sidestep those pressures and use it as an excuse for the delay in finalising the PR list.

The Interim Constitution requires the CA to sit within 21 days of the announcement of the final results of the elections after a new prime minister calls for it to convene. Far from the CA sitting, we don’t even have an agreement on a new government and who is to head it. The people are asking: how can parties who can’t even decide on whom to nominate to the CA agree on the thorny clauses in the new constitution?

The UCPN (M) leadership, especially Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, has still not come to terms with his poor showing. He has threatened to boycott the new CA unless there is an independent inquiry into alleged election rigging. Membership of the HLPC allows Dahal and his party to exert far more influence than his diminished mandate does. This week, Dahal and Co finally realised their folly and have stopped talking about a boycott. But it may be premature to break open the champagne just yet.

The HLPC is inherently undemocratic, it does not respect the result of the election and will hinder the chance of a coalition government being formed anytime soon. As the two parties that espouse peaceful democratic change and the parties that got the most votes, the onus is on the NC and UML to take the lead together and set an example.