Nepali Times
By The Way
Opportunity cost



On 27 May, Nepal made a tryst with destiny and at the stroke of the midnight hour unceremoniously dissolved the country's first elected body tasked with writing a new constitution.

The prime minister promised new elections by 22 November. That deadline came and went, and the prime minister has refused steadfastly to step down.

We are going through the umpteenth presidential ultimatum to the political parties to come up with a formula to set up a new government to oversee elections. If they can't meet that deadline by next week, which seems likely, elections in May 2013 are impossible.

A lot of people seem to think that a consensus government would be the magic wand that would resolve everything and set the country on a path to elections, and after that everything would be hunkydory. We forget that there are fundamental ideological, political as well as personal differences among the top leaders, both between parties, and much more so within parties.

The deep differences on state structure and form of government in the new constitution was what led to the breakdown in negotiations in May, and those rifts remain. They just happen to be eclipsed at the moment by the competition among leaders to lead the next government. There is a zero-sum culture where the winners wants to take all which is what made 2012 such a dismal year to possibly break the deadlock.

Mainstream media headlines in the last few weeks, including front page editorials in Thursday papers paint Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Sushil Koirala as solution-seekers with no personal ambitions of their own, and as victims of an obdurate prime minister. The editorials buy into the feeble excuses of these two obsolete leaders, covering up their inability to negotiate a deal by blaming the caretaker prime minister.

Let us remember that it is all about greed and power. Dahal's Machiavellian lies and doublespeak have caught up with him. The NC's Koirala is a puppet propped up by Dahal, and the man has willingly led his party into a Maoist trap.

One of the major sticking points in present negotiations is that the NC and UML refuse to own the agreements made in the CA, and want the new constitution to be written according to the mandate of new elections. But the agreements on the constitution in the dissolved CA were not just electoral agendas. They represented the aspirations of the people in the 2006 People's Movement, and the Madhes and Janajati movements that followed. Undermining them would turn the clock back.

The opposition also forgets that Koirala, or anybody who replaces Bhattarai, will need the cooperation of all constituencies when they come to power tomorrow. So, what they do now in the opposition could easily backfire on them.

This is not to say that NC should give in to Maoist demands. If the Maoists have been forced to accept multiparty democracy and parliament as a legitimate way of pursuing their political programs, NC and UML should also be willing to concede that there is room for improvement in the present model of parliamentary democracy. What Sushil Koirala has been insisting as "core values" could easily be seen as the NC's resistance to change.

All this political uncertainty has prolonged the people's suffering, and our leaders are lucky that the pain threshold and tolerance level of Nepalis is so high. More people left the country in 2012 in search of work in India, Malaysia, South Korea and Gulf countries than ever before. Double digit food inflation has pushed even urban middle class families into poverty. Investors have been scared off by politics, extortion, and 14-hour daily power cuts in a year that the government ironically, and with much fanfare, announced as Nepal Investment Year.

The census results that were released last month show dramatic demographic changes that will have huge political implications in the years to come. Nepal's population is ageing, but 35 per cent of the population is below 20 years. For the first time, more people live in the Tarai than in the rest of the country. There is depopulation of the hill districts. At least 12 per cent of the population is working abroad. And the icing on the cake: in 2012, Nepal was ranked as the most corrupt country in South Asia after Afghanistan. We are an international pariah for condoning impunity.

All the difficult decisions we didn't take in 2012 will come back to haunt us in 2013 and beyond.

Read also:
Choosing election

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)