Unwarranted regressionBroad consensus on federalism is unlikely because if the main issue is settled, what will be left to fight about?
The worst has happened, with no way to correct it. Nepal has plunged into a deep chasm of political instability created by the abolition of a unitary state and the failure to establish a federal one. The Interim Constitution and the new constitution have no provision for the continuation of the unitary state beyond 2074 BS. KP Oli was not the messiah, but he had started a process directed to the right goal. With the support of the major
political forces, we could hope that the transition would be managed. There may have been several minor lapses in the process, but the goal was set and some steps were taken. But that process now has been abruptly disrupted without any valid reason.
The constitution had been the creation of the union of the three major forces—the NC, the CPN-UML and the Maoists—with commitment to fully implement it. A breach of trust occurred when the NC left midway just after the endorsement of the constitution. The reason the NC gave was that one of the major forces should be in the opposition in order for democracy to function well. It would have been a valid reason had the political process been constitutionally institutionalised and functionally stabilised. However, the constitution was not even complete in legitimising the state boundaries. The creation and institutionalisation of the federal structure require over 100 laws. The Oli-led
coalition minus the NC was finding it hard to put the pieces together to carry out that job.
The sudden decision of the Maoist to quit the ruling coalition and form a joint government with the NC with a nine-month sharing of power between them has several flaws. Rather than the vision to implement the constitution, it is prompted by a lust for power. It involves a significant loss of time not only in the initial phase but also during the change of guards.
Lack of trust between the power sharers will cloud whatever national vision there is in the new coalition. The political history after the restoration of multiparty democracy has offered enough evidence to prove these claims true. There is opportunism in every step. Political ideology has vanished from the Nepali political scene. The decade-long insurgency has put whatever political morality there was on the back burner.
National unity has been shattered in various forms of ‘identity’. In every Maoist utterance, there is ethnic, religious, regional identity, with several marginal variants. Is this not enough to disrupt the peaceful political process? It is the so-called leaders who do not let the peaceful process stabilise. The reason is clear: if there is political stability, the prevailing impunity will end and the various so-called leaders will be subjected to the rigours of the rule of law. Many of them will be sent behind bars. Who wants this? ‘Let the country go to hell, but I must remain the Hero’ is the motto of our leaders. There is no wider vision.
The proposed coalition is planning to hold local level elections in nine months from now. What will be the significance of the local level elections if there is no agreement on the form and content of the federal structure? The agitating Madhesi Morcha has already declared that it will oppose the local level elections without satisfactory boundary delineation. This will call for the finalisation of the federal structure.
The first ever step, therefore, will be to find ways to come to a satisfactory federal mapping of the country. This is being prolonged ever since the formulation of the Interim Constitution. It should have been finalised before enforcing the constitution. Failing that, in the haste to endorse the constitution, it could have been finalised with the continuance of the three-party coalition that had worked together to enforce the constitution. However, the refusal of the NC to participate in Oli’s government did not let that happen. Worse, the NC started to look for loopholes to dislodge the Oli-led coalition and was successful in alluring the Maoist. One minor success has shattered the prospects of national unity.
The burden of completing the transition has shifted from the shoulders of ex-PM Oli to the new Prachanda-Deuba duo. Stung by the sudden conspiracy, Oli will look for a credible approach to patch up differences. Spontaneous cooperation looks distant. The red faces will take quite a while to cool down. The
loud charges fired at Oli will be ringing not only in his ears but also in the ears of many who feel concerned about the country’s future. Against this background, it will be a far cry to talk of a united approach. The resulting disunity among the major political parties will harm the national goal of political stability. The immediate impacts are likely as follows.
The progressive budget will be sidelined (only the routine work will be done) so as to check the attraction towards the past government. This will be very visible if the past is any guide. The practice has been that if you cannot do any good, you make sure you do not let others do it either!
The finalisation of the constitution will not happen due to a lack of unity. Completing the federal structure requires not only the numerical two-thirds of Parliament but also a broad consensus among the major forces, which is unlikely given their common vision: if the main issue is settled, what will be left to fight about?
Our relation with our southern neighbour will look normal on the surface, but our capacity to bargain will be weakened because of the southern support behind the present changeover. The mercy our southern neighbour has bestowed upon the new coalition will prove to be worse in the long run than the cruel embargo we had to face last year, especially because we will not have Oli’s courage to stand up for us this time.
The present coalition will have no motivation to speed up the process of developing infrastructure on the northern frontier for two reasons:
the southern benefactors will not like it, and second, it will raise the image of the opposition.
The present changeover will not only fail to bring in any good for the country, it will also not favour the coalition. If an election is held in a fair manner, both the NC and the Maoist Centre will fare far worse than what they had achieved in the second Constituent Assembly elections.
A sane person who loves their country is in a predicament. They cannot even offer good wishes for the new coalition, as its success will mean a disaster to the nation. God save our nation!
Sharma is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org