The Games They Played

Nepal Politics     0
The Games They Played

Caretaker Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba alone is not responsible for the delay in the formation of a new government, as is being publicized. The delay has been caused by the political games played by almost all major actors who have crucial roles to play for the formation of the new government.


--BY SHANT SHARMA

The left alliance's landslide victory in the recent elections triggered tremors inside as well as outside the country, but several weeks have since gone by without the new government in sight. The elections were meant to mark the final phase in the country’s long political transition from the abolition of the monarchy to the establishment of a federal republic. The fact that they haven’t is as much a reflection of the old habits of the Nepali politicians of New Nepal as it is of last minute constitutional and administrative wrinkles. 

Also, and importantly, there was a lot of political scheming behind the curtain. In other words, almost all major political actors who had key roles to play in the formation of the new government were busy playing their own political games, for their own benefits, delaying new government formation.    

Let's begin with the President. One of the major reasons behind the delay in the formation of the new government has been the formation of the National Assembly (NA). The first reason behind the delay in the formation of the NA was President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s decision to sit on an Ordinance on the federal upper house for two months even though she had no legal authority to do so. 

Bhandari – who was elected as the ceremonial head of state on the recommendation of the CPN-UML – is angling for another term as president, and was acting on the instruction of her mother party, the UML, which has emerged as the single biggest political entity after the recently-completed elections for three tiers of governments: local, provincial and federal. The UML reigned supreme on each tier. Together with its alliance partner, the CPN (Maoist Centre), the UML has an absolute majority in the 275-member federal lower house and it will also get to form the government, in an alliance with the Maoists again, in six of the seven federal provinces.

But while the election to the lower house is based on universal adult franchise, the upper house is to be elected based on electoral colleges comprised of elected representatives at the local and provincial levels. The ordinance on the upper house that was forwarded by the current Nepal Congress-led caretaker government of Sher Bahadur Deuba to the president, had proposed that election to the upper house be based on ‘single transferable vote’. This method would ensure some presence of the ruling Nepali Congress as well as of other smaller parties in the upper house.

But the UML opposed the system. Following its sweeping victory in the local elections, the first of the three elections, UML wanted a majoritarian system of election to the upper house to help it get the most seats. It thus lobbied for the upper house to be elected based on ‘block votes’, which, given the new electoral map of Nepal, would have meant that nearly all of the 59-member national assembly would be filled by UML and Maoist candidates.

Interestingly, the original draft Bill had also proposed a block-vote system. But that Bill not approved by the parliament as the ruling Congress wanted it to be changed when it became clear that this system would not suit it. Then, after the parliamentary session, was over, the government sent it to the president to issue it as Ordinance. This is why President Bhandari was under UML pressure not to approve the ordinance. Prime Minister Deuba, meanwhile, insisted that he would not step down before the formation of the upper house on the basis of single-transferable vote. Clearly, Deuba wanted to maximize his and his party's political gains, realizing that such an opportunity would not come at least for the next five years. 

Thus the impasse over the formation of new government has dragged on even after the publication of the final results of the first-past-the-post (FPTP) component of the combined provincial and federal elections. But with Oli itching to become prime minster again, and with seemingly no other way to remove Deuba, the UML leader was forced to give his tacit nod to the Ordinance.

Thus, after holding on to the Ordinance for two months since the Deuba government first forwarded it, President Bhandari gave it her blessing on December 30, last year. Theoretically, this cleared the way for the formation of the new government. But the new government may still take more time to fashion. Completing the complicated process of electing the upper house is expected to take around a month and a half.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Ayodhee Prasad Yadav, too, was involved in this game-playing. Yadav who was appointed to the post of CEC with the backing of CPN (Maoist Center) was successful in securing a berth in the Provincial Assembly of Province 2 for his daughter-in-law Pramila Kumari. Many are already asking this question: How could Pramila Kumari, who was virtually unknown in Nepali politics till now, be picked by the Maoist Center as a provincial lawmaker under the proportional representation category, without CEC Yadav making some special efforts? 

Besides President Bhandari and Prime Minister Deuba, Maoist Center Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal was busy playing another game for his own political gain. Officially, his party was/is an alliance with Oli's UML. But he was deeply engrossed in backdoor negotiations with the Nepali Congress, which offered him the post of next PM in order to break the left alliance. It was not possible for Dahal to leave the alliance but he certainly used NC's offer to make a hard bargain with Oli. 

Oli, on the other hand, knew that he will not be able to become prime minister without Prachanda’s help. So, according to sources, they both have agreed to become prime minister for two-and-a-half years each in the five-year term. Whether such an arrangement will be in Nepal’s interest is a different question altogether.

In the best-case scenario, the new government could be formed sometime in mid-February. Till then Deuba could hang on by using every trick in his well-thumbed political book.  Nonetheless, with UML conceding the Nepali Congress’s demand for a single-transferable vote on election to the upper house, Deuba and his Congress party are under moral pressure to reciprocate this gesture of goodwill and plan for a graceful exit.

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