Accelerating Political Developments

The two parties’ ability in smartly carrying out this somewhat conspiratorial act without noise must be appreciated, despite the fact that their controversial move has been branded by legal experts as a mockery of the separation of powers and has inv

May 8, 2017, 4:03 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL. 10, NO. 18, May 05- 2017 (Baisakh 22, 2074)

The two major ruling parties (NC and Maoist-Center) registered an impeachment motion against Chief Justice Sushila Karki in the Parliament on Sunday(April 30), accusing her of interfering in the executive’s decision making and working against the principle of separation of powers. This move has surprised many. The two parties’ ability in smartly carrying out this somewhat conspiratorial act without noise must be appreciated, despite the fact that their controversial move has been branded by legal experts as a mockery of the separation of powers and has invited lots of criticism from several quarters. There is tremendous pressure on Deuba and Prachanda to withdraw the registered proposal. Without digging much into it, one can comfortably conclude that the motion registered is sure to contribute towards increasing the level of instability at a time when the agitating parties had begun to show positive attitude towards cooperation with the major parties in conducting polls and implementing the constitution. In the earlier impeachment motion against Lokman Singh Karki, UML and Maoist-Center joined hands and in the present one against Sushila Karki, the Maoists have supported NC initiatives.  These attacks on institutions through repeated use of impeachment tool are difficult to digest and are not condonable. Let us now dwell on some other political developments that have taken place in the recent past.

After the major political parties showed flexibility in organizing polls in two phases and do their best to bring on board election the agitating parties, Madhesh-based parties seemed preparing themselves for the polls. In a major development, six of the regional parties under the United Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF) announced to form a new party-Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N) in a bid, according to them, to consolidate their strength for protest to push for constitution amendment and emerge as a new national level force. The Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal (SSFN) the key constituent of UMDF, however, has not joined the group as it is likely to unite with Baburam Bhattari-led Naya Shakti Nepal. Another welcome change has been that the new party has dropped Madhesh from its name following, probably, Upendra Yadav’s long-taken decision of making his party broader and encompassing. After concrete assurances from the ruling parties, the agitating Sanghiya Gathabandhan, consisting of the newly formed RJP, Yadav-led SSFN and some Janajati forces, finally agreed to join the local level elections. It is a welcome development that the force that had not only decided to boycott but to disrupt local polls is participating. It may be noted that the Gathabandhan withdrew all the protests following their agreement with the ruling coalition on issues related to addition of some units in some districts of Tarai, formation of Federal Commission to decide on provincial boundaries and national languages. Prachanda-led government acted swiftly in deciding to hold the second phase of polls on June 14 and approving the contents of the proposed constitutional amendment and tabling it in the Parliament on April 23 amid protest by the Nepal Workers and Peasant Party. Although the main opposition did not obstruct the House proceedings on April 23, it did stop the House on April 25 demanding immediate response from DPM Thapa on a circular by his ministry for increasing the number of local levels in 11 Tarai districts. The House was allowed to function after the government decided to roll back its decision to increase the number of local units. The recently formed RJP expressed its unhappiness at this development and also warned of serious consequences. A meeting of the UML Standing Committee concluded that the new proposal is more regressive and anti people than the previous one. Notwithstanding some flexibility shown by UML and the Gathbandhan on some issues, the path ahead still looks thorny and Prachanda and Deuba will have to do some more work to find a workable solution.

A total of 50 proposals have been registered in the amendment bill. The attempt to register a single amendment proposal based on the understanding reached on April 22 between the government and the agitating parties represented by UDMF and FA failed as the SSFN had differences over proposal of the ruling parties and the RJP-Nepal. SSFN registered a separate proposal but sought revisions in the same five provisions that the ruling coalition and RJP-Nepal have sought in their joint proposal. In addition to these two, other parties have registered 48 proposals seeking amendment in the constitution. UML is hell bent on defeating the government-sponsored proposal, which has been made very clear by Oli’s refusal to accept NC president Deuba’s request to support the amendment bill. He clearly told Deuba and other leaders of NC that they were against the bill, more specifically against three provisions- language, Article 274 and delinking of voting rights of chiefs and deputy chiefs of local units.UML also believes that the new bill would curtail the rights of provinces as it is intended to revise provincial boundaries without the consent of the provincial assembly concerned. In addition to these differences between the two major political parties, issues related to budget and holding of elections in phases are equally important and warrant urgent attention of the concerned. Initially, major parties appeared agreeable on holding local elections in two phases, which also helped agitating parties to soften their stance and move towards participation in the polls. The budget issue, however, has created confusion and some problems because it has to be made public by Jestha 15(May 29) as per the constitutional provision, which falls between the approved  polling dates of May 14 and June14.After expressing some initial reservations on budget before elections, the Election Commission(EC) has made it clear that it would not stand in the way of the government presenting the fiscal estimates for the coming fiscal year between the first and second phase of the local polls. Looking at the mood of the authorities at the EC, it seems they are principally against a budget between the two phases of elections but should the political parties decide to do so, it will have no objection because the constitution demands its presentation on a specific date. The EC seems in a mood to cooperate with the government and the political parties and wants strict adherence by the concerned to the code of conduct which came into effect on March 1 and will prevail until the second phase of polls are over. UML, however, has strongly objected to the idea of having second phase of polls after the budget as it could influence the vote by introducing populist programmes.UML even contemplated having polls on a single day. Talking of organizing polls on a single day, one could now only think of June 14 because with confusion eclipsing the political horizon till now, holding polls in one phase on May 14 has become somewhat impossible. Moreover, nominations for the first phase of polls have already been filed.UML, therefore, will have to be agreeable to fixation of a new date, through constitutional amendment, for budget presentation. Being in dire need of adequate time to prepare for the polls, the Madhesh-based parties seem to have no objection to this formulation as long as the constitution is amended on time. Upendra Yadav, who has come under attack by Madheshi leaders for taking part in the election, defended his action that his party’s participation was based on Dahal’s assurance that the constitution will be amended after the first phase polls. Leaders of the major political parties will have to act responsibly showing maximum flexibility and exercising utmost restraint. Encouraging thing is that Prime Minister Dahal is working hard to get the major players into consensus, UML is said to be open to finding a consensus through dialogue and Deuba, the man to succeed Dahal, is doing lots of running around accompanied by his senior colleagues. Unfortunately, amid these ongoing conciliatory efforts has come the issue of impeachment that has invited sharp criticism from the main opposition and has shown that the sponsoring parties, mainly NC, are also not solidly united on the issue. Senior leader Poudyal of NC went on record expressing his unhappiness and has urged the leadership to correct it. Deputy Prime Minister Bimalendra Nidhi resigned expressing his unhappiness with the move to impeach Chief Justice. Nidhi had been unhappy with both NC leadership and Prime Minister Dahal ever since Kamal Thapa, another DPM, was given the protocol senior to him. Leadership’s unwillingness to take NIdhi into confidence on the impeachment issue further infuriated the number three man in government who chose the right issue and an opportune moment to quit the government that he desperately wanted of late to say good bye to. Nidhi may have made some political capital but it is difficult to say whether his gain would suffice to heal the serious injury inflicted on NC by its own acts in recent times. Dr.Baburam Bhattari has strongly criticized this act of the two parties and DPM Kamal Thapa also wasted no time in expressing his displeasure at the impeachment motion, which was followed by his party’s decision to withdraw from the government. In the meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the government to garner a two-thirds majority as some RPP lawmakers have stood against Thapa’s earlier decision to support the amendment bill. Indeed, Deuba and Prachanda will have to work very hard to mend the surfacing intra and inter-party cracks so that continuing instability could be done away with and conditions could be created for execution of some meaningful activities on the political as well as economic front.

According to data made available by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), the purchasing power of Nepali rupees (NRs) has declined by 400 percent in the last two decades. Generally depreciation of a currency leads to enhanced exports from the country concerned but the weak production base has been the major impediment in our case. Our currency’s depreciation vis-à-vis US dollar, rising inflation along with lack of production in the country are cited as reasons for deterioration in the value of NRs. Existing  low level of inflation allows the monetary authority to go for quantitative easing on a massive scale so that the hiked rates on loans by financial institutions could be lowered. This effort of the central bank should be complemented by the ministry of finance which is having tough time spending some Rs.311billion allocated in the current budget as capital expenditure. Production base has to be strengthened so that the trade imbalance (Rs.580 billion in the 8 months of this fiscal), which is about 55 percent of the total budgetary outlay, gets corrected gradually over time. Economy of Nepal could grow by around 7 percent this year as against 0.01 percent growth of last year; according to the revised estimates of CBS. Hope this encouraging growth figure does not require sharp downward adjustment over time and is not a onetime windfall either. If we can keep our house in order, we do not have to worry much about externalities hurting Nepal and its economy because we can now count on India for unrestricted trade with Nepal and the heightened tension in Korean Peninsula is not likely to drag major powers into direct confrontation because in the recent UN Security Council meeting both China and USA were in agreement on the proposal of imposing newer and stricter sanctions on missile-testing North Korea. May Lord Pashupatinath save our country?

Dr. Tilak Rawal

Dr. Tilak Rawal

Dr. Rawal is former governor of NRB.

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