AFTER THE RESIGNATION Cover Story: Destination Uncertainty

After more than a year in office prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal of  a shaky multi-party coalition bows to the pressure of the main  opposition Maoists and the dissidents within own party “to clear way for ending a prolonged deadlock”. Bu

July 4, 2010, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol. 04 No. 03 July 2-2010 (Asadh-18, 2067)

He defied logic. Without a support in parliament he enjoyed a majority. The largest party -- the main opposition Maoist long rooted for his ouster. Own party boss, Jhalnath Khanal, dubbed his former boss only a caretaker. The key coalition partner, Nepali Congress, ran an internal rat race to replace him, even before the chair fell vacant. Smaller parties did not hide where there had been sitting -- on the fence.

But prime minister Madhav Nepal remained in office. Whether he should continue went on to become a subject of national debate. The Doubting Thomasses began counting his days the day he assumed office.

He proved them wrong and went on to become the longest-serving communist prime minister of Nepal. The midnight extension of the constituent assembly had been linked with his exit “within five days”.
One full month and five days after, the exit route appeared blocked. He himself boasted of strength to face up to all challenges to his chair.

“I am not going to bow down. I will show them the metal I am made of,” he told a top political functionary two days before he put in papers.

The beleaguered man indeed appeared to start a new innings in the spacious Baluwatar residence.

He submitted the details of private assets to the office of the council of ministers -- something he should have done a year ago immediately after assuming the office.

He called a marathon meeting of the government secretaries and issued sermons to them.

“Do your job or else...” came the warning from a man who many thought was not sure of own job. To cap it all, he got the president call the budget session of the parliament.

It was a defiant move coming as it did despite the main opposition’s threat to disrupt the session. A “caretaker” prime minister daring to take care of the parliament session

But he defied the logic again. He quit quietly five days before the budget session was due to begin.

If he was not sure of facing the session in the wake of the Maoist threat to disrupt it, why did he in the first place call it?

The reason: a man of indecision that he was he did not know what decision awaited him.

His sudden departure may be hailed by many as clearing the way for ending the prolonged deadlock. That will be day-dreaming.

The much sought-after consensus is sure to remain as elusive as ever  with major parties and leaders fighting for the share of the power  cake.

The search for his successor has not ended yet. Nor is it going to end even in the distant future.   “ A consensus” on the Maoist candidate is ruled out outright.

 

Even if chairman Prachanda is forced to fall in line “to keep the doors of anyone open” to lead the new government, other parties are less likely to fall in line unless the Maoists turn into a “civilian” outfit.

Baburam Bhattarai may get the nod but only as leader of a splinter Maoist party.

That chairman Prachanda has been, to borrow his own words, “besieged” from within could be a serious pointer to that direction.

The recent acrimonious politburo meeting may also have cleared the decks for an eventual split of the country’s largest party, but that may have to wait some time yet.

The other aspirant, Jhalnath Khanal, has few takers within own party, let alone support from the others.

The Nepali Congress has a front-runner in the parliamentary party leader, Ram Chandra Poudel.

But his rival, Sher Bahadur Deuba, has the backing of key power centres which few dare to challenge.

The search for a consensus successor to Madhav Kumar Nepal remains as elusive as ever.

Some see in his resignation the future of the peace process and the successful end of the critical political transition. Some don’t.

On his part, prime minister Nepal is not sure of  what follows now.   Pobably he has hoped to cash in on the resultant uncertainty and chaos.  The first indication of which will come from the confusion over the budget.

The new fiscal budget will now hit a roadblock. His caretaker government can not present it. And without it, the state faces the threat of coming to a halt.

With the party bickering in all likelihood stopping the early formation of a new government  -- consensus or majority --  the caretaker government is expected to get an extended life.

That works to his advantage as well. And to the hands that rock the cradle.

He was handpicked to lead a non-Maoist coalition not out of choice but compulsion of others.

He remained in office for that long despite wanting to quit long time ago, according to him.  That meant he was there not out of choice but of the compulsion of others.

But Madhav Kumar Nepal has sought to give the impression that he has quit on his own.

If he is to be believed he will have to eat his words. Earlier, he had said that he did not want to throw the country into chaos and uncertainty by “hastily” quitting, unless a consensus is reached and a
clear picture of a new prime minister emerged.

There has been no change in the scene. Yet the prime minister has resigned. Not from the floors of the supreme representative body – the parliament – whose session he had called only two days ago.

So much for the oft-repeated commitment to “loktantra” and “people’s sovereignty”

Quipped an analyst, “continuing in office or quitting it depends not on one’s choice but on others’ compulsion”.

The result:  destination ahead for the country is further uncertainty. Consensus or no consensus. Constitution or no constitution.

 

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