We should hold all three elections simultaneously under a unity govtWith last week’s budget presentation, there is renewed discussion about a change in government.
With last week’s budget presentation, there is renewed discussion about a change in government. The CPN (Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli are publicly at odds over the existence of a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ that reportedly stipulates that Oli would hand over the premiership to Dahal after the budget’s presentation. Against this backdrop, John Narayan Parajuli and Roshan Sedhai spoke to Barsha Man Pun, a key Maoist interlocutor and party’s point person on policies and programmes, about the prospects of a government change, the role of the northern neighbour in preventing the fall of the Oli government, the future of the various Maoist parties and the possibility of local elections in November-December.
Is a change in government in the offing?
It was agreed between the UML and the UCPN (Maoist) that after the Oli-led government presents the budget, there will be a change in government. A national government, with the Nepali Congress (NC) and agitating Madhesi parties on board, will be formed. It will prioritise the implementation of the constitution, the reconstruction process and the addressing of dissenting voices.
Is there a gentlemen’s agreement between Prime Minister Oli and your party Chairman?
The UML senior leaders have themselves admitted to the existence of such an agreement. A gentleman’s agreement is based on mutual understanding and trust. What is agreed on should be respected. We have not publicised the matter. PM Oli’s recent statements should not be viewed as being against the agreement. They could have stemmed from reservations his party might have on some aspects of the arrangement. As long as PM Oli is in office, he should command full authority and some of his statements may be aimed at asserting it. But if his statements are intended to dishonour the agreement, then it is clearly wrong.
There are references to numerous gentleman’s agreements in Nepali politics—with a majority of them often not implemented. How positive are you that the UML will honour this particular agreement?
We are positive that this agreement will be implemented. Else it will raise questions on the trustworthiness of the prime minister and his party. Politics is not a short-term game; the UML should realise that trustworthiness is an important asset for political parties. Also, as we kept our word after the constitution’s promulgation, we expect it to return the favour.
How would you respond to the argument that there is no provision in the new constitution to change the government prior to the election for the next federal parliament?
There is no constitutional rigidity in this matter as we are in the implementation phase of the constitution. If the prime minister resigns, his post will automatically be vacant. He can also be removed from office if a no-confidence motion is passed against him or if he is not a Member of Parliament. So the claims that the prime minister cannot be changed during the implementation phase of the constitution are not accurate. I think such statements are being made by people who have not read the statute properly.
Are the Maoist leaders themselves divided over the issue of government change?
Our main agenda is not a change in government. Turn of events after the promulgation of the constitution has been such that we need a national government to implement the statute. We have three elections to hold and even if a single political party is left out, then it will not be a complete democratic process. Some parties are on the streets protesting and the largest party in Parliament, the NC, is in opposition. It is imperative to address the Madhesi and Janjati demands and get them in confidence. But the NC and the marginalised parties are against a national government under the leadership of the UML. Under such circumstances, we want to form a national government so that we can get the opposition and the dissenting parties on board. If we merely wanted a change in government, we would have done so in agreement with the NC. We are only interested in furthering national interests and we have no differences in our party about this.
In May, the Oli government narrowly survived attempts at toppling it. Did Beijing have a hand in that?
We are still in a transition phase and it is natural for both our neighbours and other foreign powers to have concerns. But for us, our national priorities are of utmost importance. Implementing the constitution and addressing the demands of the dissenting parties are the main tasks before us. After that, we need to concentrate on economic development and prosperity. We have always given importance to our neighbours’ concerns, but we will not tolerate interference in our internal matters.
It is not correct to claim that the present government is a leftist coalition. The RPP and MJF-L are also a part of it. China is likely to prefer a left leaning party in power, but to say that the agreement between the UML and the Maoists is because of Chinese influence would not be true.
Let’s talk about the future of the Maoist parties. The newly created the CPN (Maoist Centre) appears to have more leaders than party workers. Is the party unravelling?
We have merged ten independent parties, which had earlier split from us, to establish the CPN (Maoist Centre). Merging these parties, with their independent working committees, has created some problems in our party structure. For instance, some very senior leaders are in the same rank as junior leaders because the latter were working committee members of the parties that split away. So to arrange the party properly, we need to hold our party convention. Until then, the present central working committee of the party is just a temporary arrangement. We will hold our convention within this year and will announce our schedule soon. The present working committee is only mandated to hold the convention. With the country’s federalisation, the political parties have to restructure themselves anyways. Many of our present central working members will be allotted the positions in the provinces.
How do you assess the possibility of local elections in November December?
It is an international practise to hold general or central elections after promulgating a constitution. We need a fresh mandate—through a general election—to implement the constitution. But in our case, the argument is that we should hold local elections first and then provincial elections and only then general elections. This is not the usual practice. First, a central election takes place and the laws and regulations stipulated by the constitution are put in place. Then the provincial elections are conducted, which will establish the mandate for local elections.
But our case is different. We need local elections but we lack local political structures. So a pragmatic and economical way out could be to hold all the three election at once, resolve all the burning issues in one go, elect peoples’ representatives and move on to the constitution’s implementation. The elections can be held early next year; we have a year’s time to pass the required laws and bills, put local political structures in place, and demarcate the provinces.
Can the elections be held without the Madhes-based parties on board?
It will be challenging to conduct elections in the Madhesi areas and in the earthquake-affected districts. For the quake victims, the reconstruction process is more important and in the Madhes there is dissatisfaction about federal demarcation. Once we create a national government, we will address their concerns simultaneously. On the one hand, we will expedite the reconstruction process and on the other, we will address the grievances of the Madhesi people. In the meantime, the rules and regulations that the constitutions requires will also be put in place. This way, we can get the environment right to hold the elections by next year.
As a former finance minister, what is your take on the current budget?
Although the budget is highly inclusive and great in terms of social security, there is doubt about the government’s ability to spend the funds. Over the years, there have been no initiatives to improve the structure of the Finance Ministry or the skills of its staff; only the amount of the budget has been increasing. So it will be a challenge to implement the budget due to institutional incapacities.