SPEAKING FREELY Nepali leader faces unity challenge
By Kamal Dev Bhattarai
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KATHMANDU - Newly elected Nepali Prime Minister Sushil Koirala will need to address the country's fractured political landscape before he can get on with the task of promulgating a new constitution within a year - the stated aim of the Constituent Assembly he heads.
Koirala, 74, faces a real struggle to translate the Constituent Assembly's commitment into reality. His first and foremost challenge is keeping the ruling coalition intact. Koirala, president
of the centrist Nepali Congress (NC), currently has the backing of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) or CPN-UML, which emerged as the second-largest party following November 2013 elections. While the NC won 105 seats out of 240 seats, the CPN-UML won 91.
Koirala is regarded as having a clean image, and he has not held any public posts in his 50-year-long political career. But his success will be gauged by his capability to accommodate all the political forces that have a stake in the constitution drafting process.
Just hours after Monday's prime ministerial election in the Constituent Assembly, a dispute between the two coalition partners over the ministerial portfolio was already raising a serious doubt over the longevity of the new alliance. Koirala's success depends on how well he can manage the concerns of the CPN-UML.
Another prominent challenge is winning the hearts and minds of other opposition parties. For its part, the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) - or UCPN (M) - says that its priority is constitution drafting - not a power struggle.
Without support from the UCPN (M), it will not be possible to promulgate a new constitution. The Maoists are a vital part of the peace process that began in 2006 following the decade-long civil conflict. Koirala's predecessor as NC party chairman, Girija Prasad Koirala, initiated the peace process in 2006, but it is the responsibility of Koirala to finish the task.
The Maoist party has strong views on federalism and forms of government, the most contentious issues to be covered by the new constitution. The party objected to the deal between the NC and CPN-UML, saying the alliance was unconstitutional and aimed at sidelining the UCPN (M).
While the Maoists said they were willing to join the alignment providing there was amicable power sharing in the constitution-drafting process, the NC and CPN-UML have already reached an agreement over this among themselves.
The Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), which wants the revival of a constitutional monarchy, is posing a serious challenge to bigger parties in the course of constitution drafting process.
The party is saying that the new Constituent Assembly should discard the progress made by previous assemblies, and that the constitution writing process should begin from the scratch. The major parties plan to endorse the progress of previous Constituent Assembly's is hitting a snag due to the protest of RPP-N. The RPP-N has emerged as a fourth-largest party in the Constituent Assembly, surprising other parties in Nepal.
If the constitution drafting process is restarted from scratch it will not be possible to promulgate a new constitution within a year. So, government's first priority should be to hold talks with RPP-N to expedite the tasks of constitution drafting.
The CPN-Maoist, a breakaway faction of UCPN (M) is currently outside the entire political process. The party, which boycotted the November 19 election, is saying that the assembly cannot promulgate a new constitution.
There are no any options left to accommodate the CPN-Maoist group, but a new government should find a way to address their demands. A new constitution may be possible despite the protests from this party, but this wouldn't help to guarantee the political and economic stability of the country.
It has been almost three months since the November 19 election but there has been no attempt to initiate or speed-up the constitution drafting process.
The Constituent Assembly meeting is at present without any business since parties cannot agree how to start the constitution drafting process. The previous Constituent Assembly, which was elected in May 27, 2012, completed 80% of the tasks related to constitution drafting but parties are at odds over how to use those achievements.
The most contentious issue is federalism, which led to the dissolution of the last Constituent Assembly without delivering a new constitution. The NC and UML are of the view that country should be federated on the basis of multiple identities, while UCPN (M) and other regional parties want to federate country on the basis of single ethnic lines.
On the issue of federalism, there is also geopolitical interest and Nepal's parties will have to address this. The issue of forms of governance is another thorny issue in Nepal. The largest and second-largest parties want a prime ministerial system while UCPN (M) wants a presidential system in the country.
Beside the political issues, Koirala has a long list of tasks to perform in the coming days. His must seek to control the corruption that is widespread in government offices. In his address to parliament, Koirala said that he will take a zero tolerance approach in controlling the corruption.
Similarly, Koirala will have to control the rising prices on daily commodities to win the hearts and minds of the people, who are suffering from unnatural price rises and black marketing due to the lack of strong and stable government. Similarly, maintaining a balanced relation with neighboring China and India is another vital task of the Koirala.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Kamal Dev Bhattarai is a Kathmandu-based writer closely following Nepal's political process. He can be reached at email@example.com.