With barely a week left for Nepal’s financial year to end, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and President Ram Baran Yadav are still at loggerheads about the type of budget a caretaker PM should bring out. Bhattarai insists he is well within his rights to bring out a full-fledged budget through ordinance, bulldozing the president’s and other political parties’ objections. They insist that it has to be a partial budget, endorsed by other parties and that too for a quarter of a year, as general elections have already been announced.
Bhattarai has no backers. But he and his Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) have the ability to use the constitutional crisis to their advantage. Other major parties — mainly, the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) — have this time chosen to put pressure on President Yadav not to promulgate the budget through ordinance if it’s a full-fledged one.
But for the public, the Maoists as well as the NC, CPN-UML and others listed as “pro-democracy” parties, are collectively guilty of the constitutional and political deadlock as they together had monopoly over power and failed the constitution-making exercise. People’s anger and frustration is visibly at its peak.
In the midst of all this, deposed King Gyanendra undertook a five-day trip to western Nepal to a rousing welcome. “People want a certain role for the monarchy, but it is for them to decide and define that role... Things have gone worse after I left four years ago hoping they would be better,” he said. When journalists asked him if he was going to be active in politics, his answer was “I don’t understand politics much. I am more comfortable as a king.” He perhaps dropped the hint that, if restored, he would not indulge in politics as in the past, but he could not have been more direct.
More than how political events and developments unfold, the indictment of the current political actors and the worries about the prolonged and failed transition are palpable. Ai Ping, a senior leader of the Communist Party of China, and in charge of South Asian affairs, advised Nepal’s actors that federalism in general, and ethnic federalism in particular, may create more anarchy in Nepal “which will have a direct bearing on China (Tibet)’s security”. The Chinese had never been so direct, but Ai Ping’s manner of speaking is being seen as China going the way other active international players, including India, are going.
But this is also a bad time for the missions — mainly European — in Nepal. The Swiss ambassador shuttled between media houses and political leaders explaining that he is not instigating ethnicity-based politics. The EU’s office issued an unsigned “clarification” to this correspondent implying that its meeting President Yadav and asking him to play a larger role for “consensus” as a “guardian” was in no way an expression of disappointment with PM Bhattarai. Alan Duncan, Britain’s minister for international development, furnished a lengthy explanation to the president that his government had no intention of fuelling ethnic tensions in Nepal. The association of donors and diplomatic missions and their visibly open role have also come under public and media scrutiny, and at least the diplomats have begun to “explain” their conduct.
Nepal’s leaders have not only chosen not to be accountable for their failure, they have also shown an absence of reflective capacity as well. Some leaders are demanding the “reinstatement” of the CA instead of going for fresh polls in November that the election commission itself is not sure of taking place. Neither a fresh CA nor parliamentary election can be ordered under the interim constitution.
But none of this has seemingly become the issue of concern for political parties. A PM who many think is harbouring a “totalitarian” ambition and political parties’ failure to offer an alternative to him only indicate that the country will be trudging along the path of confusion and added uncertainty for some weeks to come. A lasting solution cannot be found without opening a much wider process of reconciliation among the current political leaders on one hand and political dissenters and conventional forces denied any political space after 2006 on the other. That will create a conducive atmosphere to take contentious issues like federalism and its model, secularism and its definition, and perhaps the issue of the monarchy, to the people — the ultimate architects of Nepal’s fate and polity.