After three weeks of political turmoil, Nepal has finally got the new coalition government. Now, the moderate communist party, UML led coalition replaces the hard-line Maoist led coalition in Nepal. When the Maoists pulled out of the government, opposition parties had to toil hard and wait long to materialize any such coalition to prove majority in jumbo 601 member constituent assembly and subsequently lead the government. All these mammoth efforts now put a veteran communist politician, Madhab Kumar Nepal who led the then largest communist party of the country for fifteen years until one year ago into the helm.
Fall of the Maoist-led government in Nepal had pushed the country into an unprecedented political turmoil. It was unpredictable that the rule of the former Maoist rebels who led a coalition government after turning largest political party through the elections a year ago would live so short. The crisis was ignited by the Maoist's move to sack the army chief without the consent of the coalition partners. This move forced the disgruntled coalition partners to withdraw their support; putting the Maoists into minority. The opposition Nepali Congress, a number of army generals and the diplomatic quarters, especially India put pressure on President Dr. Rambaran Yadav to avert the government's decision. The President who comes from Nepali Congress could not sustain the pressure and reinstated the sacked army general Rukmangad Katawal. In another unprecedented move following the President's order, the Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda stepped down 'protesting dual power centers'. Now, they have decided to launch political showdowns across the country against the President's 'unconstitutional move'. They have also outright denied joining any coalition to form a government unless the President 'rectifies his move'. Now, the largest party in the constituent assembly which also works as the legislative parliament has opted to sit in the opposition.
Though, new government is put in place, the turmoil is not over yet. Now, three-year-long peace process is at a risk, the elected constituent assembly (CA) which is obliged by law to write a new constitution by June next year is virtually in standstill and some of the popular programs initiated by the Maoist-led government are at stake. Integration of the rebel army into national army and other security forces or rehabilitating them into society is jeopardized as the former rebels who are in cantonment under UN supervision and the national army face each other in a cold war like situation.
The newly formed government has many Herculean tasks to accomplish. Though the parties have succeeded for now on showing majority in 601 member constituent assembly, such coalition is so fringe that it may break anytime soon. The wrangling has already begun while allocating ministries for the parties. Besides, the UML has expressed commitments to extremely contradicting demands of the parties while making this coalition. These commitments will prove very costly when the government begins functioning. Especially, containing the kingmaker regional parties which are demanding autonomy for the southern plains will be the biggest challenge for the new Prime Minister to handle.
The new government will have to spend much of the time on handling the outrageous Maoist cadres who have now moved to the street protests. As earlier, the spate of protests will continue across the country. One indigenous group in southern plains has already announced protest programs including general strike as a welcome note to the new government. Handling these groups is extremely important but very tricky and also contradicting with the policies of the coalition partners.
Though the Maoists were seen unscrupulous in handling the treasury, they were able to introduce some extremely popular programs to the rural and urban poors. These programs have further attracted large chunk of population towards the Maoists. For the Maoist government, they were pilot projects. The burden of implementing the full-fledged programs has been transferred to this government which is very difficult with the limited resources. The new government has to include them in the new budget which is to be introduced by mid-July.
The biggest challenge for the new government would be to contain the Maoist into the constituent assembly so that constitution writing process moves smoothly. CPN Maoist's seat in CA amount to more than the sum of two other largest parties Nepali Congress and UML. By law, this government can stay in power till next June and has to give the new constitution by then. The law also demands that each article of the new constitution be passed by the two third majority. It seems almost impossible for the constituent assembly to function smoothly when the Maoists are unwilling to let the credit go to their rivals. There are even doubts for bigger setback in the political developments in Nepal - what if the new constitution is not formulated by then, or if the Maoists who still own their army and armory intensify protests to capture state power through force. The new government has too short time to settle all those disputes and accomplish the desired jobs.
Yet, the new Prime Minister enjoys the benefit of doubt – the veteran leader has not been tested as the leader in the government yet. The success of the government depends upon MK Nepal's ability to placate the former rebels. The best way for the Prime Minister to guarantee smooth functioning of the government will be, in any way, to bring the Maoists into the ruling coalition.
The article was published in The Daily Star, largest selling English Daily in Bangladesh on 31 May, 2009. The article is also available at http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=90510.