Amendments can happen, provided that they are justifiedEven as the left alliance have forged an agreement to share positions at the provincial assemblies and governments, they are yet to come to a consensus regarding the sharing of seats at the federal level.
Even as the left alliance have forged an agreement to share positions at the provincial assemblies and governments, they are yet to come to a consensus regarding the sharing of seats at the federal level. Also, the underlying issue of the unification of CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre), something espoused by the left alliance prior to elections, is yet to take any concrete form. At a time when the left alliance has failed to even begin their tenure as a single party providing stable governance for the next five years, Tika R Pradhan and Kamal Dev Bhattarai talked to UML Secretary Pradeep Gyawali to learn of the priorities of the new government, and his views on the current political scenario.
What is going on with process of unifying CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre)?
The left electoral alliance was a precursor to party unity, something we espoused publicly prior to elections. The public responded well to our drive towards unity, as can be seen from the near two-third majority that the alliance received. One of the reasons for the alliance to receive these many votes is definitely the public’s belief that we will unify the two parties, so we are in process to make it happen.
What are the main challenges in the way towards successful unification? Mentions of differences in principles and the leadership are cropping up. Are these true?
There are three dimensions to work on when parties want to merge. One is policy alignment to figure out the political philosophy of the unified entity. Second is the modality of unification, to adjust party cadres and leaders into the correct hierarchy in the unified organisation. Third is sentiment, or spirit, alignment. I’m glad to say that, even though we have had differences in the past, the electoral alliance really helped the two parties align. There is also a general understanding on the political vision that the unified party should adopt. Both parties agree that we have to focus on socio-economic transformation and national capacity building, and we agree that we have to do it under the guidelines set by the constitution—and supporting multi-party democracy.
That KP Oli will become the next prime minister, there is no doubt. But we are hearing of differences arising on who will lead the unified party. Care to elaborate?
If, hypothetically, the left alliance had not won a majority to form government, we would still have unified. We are only in the present situation because, as we have won, we have been presented with two major roles to divvy up. The leadership division issue is not a big deal at all. This unification is not just about adding numbers to make a large party, but is an attempt to gain synergy—in a way that cadres and leaders are optimally utilised going forward. The reason that we have not made our progress public is that, sometimes, external forces act as spoilers on the ongoing process. We know for a fact that the leadership issue will not put a spanner on the work we have done.
What is the reason for delay then?
Unification is proceeding in a very mature way, to make sure that there are no problems arising in the future. Also, our focus has naturally been diverted towards the way—post elections—that forces have moved towards undermining the left victory by not allowing the formation of a new government.
What will be the fate of the decisions taken by incumbent government, including increasing the allowance of senior citizens?
The decisions that the caretaker government has taken is illegal and unconstitutional. But it has also done so with malicious intent. Sher Bahadur Deuba took one month after elections to even acknowledge the left alliance’s victory. In the one and a half months since elections, the government was too busy trying to break the alliance, even offering Pushpa Kamal Dahal Premiership for five years and using electoral technicalities to delay the transfer of power. Now, their intent is to leave Nepal in such a broken state that the left government will be severely hampered. We wanted the Nepali Congress to have a positive role in the State’s development. But the way the current leadership there is not even willing to review its own failings in the elections, and instead uses underhanded tactics to undermine the left alliance, shows the sorry state they are in. We have formally objected to the series of new provisions brought out by the caretaker government, and have said that we will formally review each and every one once the new government is formed. We are willing to reverse decisions that hamper the country or the people, or ones that go against constitutional guidelines.
The Election Commission has said that its role in delays in the transfer of power is due to constitutional hurdles. Was that the case?
The delays are definitely not due to any ambiguities. Periodic elections are a major part of democracy. And no democratic system in the world envisions hurdles in forming a new government after the completion of elections. If the election resulted in no clear majority, the case to question legitimacy of government formation might have had room to present itself. In the present case, it is not a question of ambiguity but an issue of misinterpretation and distortion. Women representation in Parliament has been assured at 35 percent; otherwise the nominations would not have been accepted. The signs point towards a definite attempt by the Nepali Congress to buy time in order to break the left alliance. The EC clearly made a u-turn on its decision to publish the electoral results by December 20. If there were any ambiguities in interpreting constitutional guidelines about elections to the Upper House, the EC should have announced them before conducting federal and provincial polls. The three major parties could have come up with a solution before beginning to contest elections. Whatever his reasons may be, the Chief Election Commissioner has done wrong in this regard.
One of the reasons for the success of the left alliance in the recent elections has been its promise of providing stability. People have high expectations for developmental progress, such as increasing employment under the new government. What are your plans for pushing development?
There is no reason to doubt whether the goals espoused in the left alliance’s election manifesto are achievable. Our goal for bringing Nepal out of the Least Developed Country (LDC) status within five years and making Nepal an upper middle income country within the next 10 years are not impossible goals.
One of the biggest neglected sectors in Nepal is agriculture. We are planning a land utilisation policy so that land ideal for agriculture is not encroached by other sectors and is not left barren. We are planning to give incentives to farmers, especially ones who want to farm in the large-scale. We want to increase domestic consumption of home grown foods so that Nepal is self-sustaining in basic foods. This would also help us reduce the trade deficit, while promoting self-employment and growing the GDP. The second largest sector in terms of potential is the energy sector, which we also want to promote. We are setting a target of home grown production of more than 15,000MW annually within the next ten years. We are not just going to rely on our hydropower potential, however, and are actively looking to promote other alternative, clean energy sources. We plan to promote foreign direct investment and the private sector for this. The third sector is tourism, where our aim is to bring in 5 million tourists annually in the next ten years. For this, we envision the need for massive infrastructure and marketing investment.
We see a massive infrastructure gap that we have to fill. Specifically, cross-border connectivity is important and we see the need for rail connectivity with our neighbours within the next five years. Highway upgradation is also an important, and we envision major highways such as the east-west highway to be upgraded to six lanes. We also plan to launch a massive campaign to connect all villages, towns and cities. Social justice, equitable growth and inclusive development go hand in hand.
Nepal’s foreign policy reality is pretty much set in stone. We have to address the security concerns of both India and China while partnering with both for our growth. But there has been much talk of a KP Oli-led government being biased towards China and angering India in the process.
The reality of the matter is that our dependency is one-sided, towards India, and this has taught us a great lesson in the past. When the UML tried to balance this dependency, a biased view saw us move closer to China. When Indian diplomats or the Indian media portrayed this view, it shocked us. India should be thanking us. Being such a small country with an open border, we have basically secured 1,800km of India’s border for free. If India had to fence and guard this long border, how much would it cost? We have said many times that China need not be worried about our proximity to India. And vice versa. We will not let Nepal be used as a ground to attack either side, and we will balance our relationship with both sides. Our equal relationship and connection with both nations will eventually benefit both our neighbours too, that is what everyone has to understand.
Is there any improvement in the relation between KP Oli and India since the last time he was prime minister?
I think that there is a realisation in India that whatever happened during the economic blockade was not beneficial to either country. We also want a friendly relationship with India. Coincidentally the Eminent Persons Groups is currently reviewing the relationship between our two countries, to translate it into the realities of the 21st century. We have hope that the report from this group will be complete by July. We want to use that report to further strengthen our ties with India. We want to keep economic development as the priority in our relationship with India going forward.
Province 2 is home to Madhesis, who have been clamouring for constitutional amendment. KP Oli’s recent statements going against amendments are a cause for concern. How will you resolve the matter?
We have to understand that the mandate of Province 2 has been given almost equally—almost one-third each—to the Madhesi parties, Nepali Congress and the left alliance. What we have to understand by this is that the voice of the people in this province does not only wrest within the Madhesi parties: There is a mixed voice. How the issue will go forward depends on whether the Madhesi parties accept this fact or not. We have never said that we do not believe in constitutional amendment. Amendments can happen, provided that they are justified. We need to test whether the current approved structure is a good fit before going for alternatives. But the people in Province 2 do believe in the SSF-N and the RJP-N, so we do want to forge cooperation.