Nepali month of Poush is chilly but the political heat has run high during this time. The political parties are now busy holding their meetings and picking their new leadership. However, with the arrival of cold Poush, two regressive events come to the minds of Nepalis. One is the coup of Poush 1 that has been recalled as a black day. On Poush 1, 2017 B.S., king Mahendra had removed a democratically elected government, dissolved parliament and installed a party-less Panchayat system. Democracy was suspended for 30 years. It was only with the joint struggle of communists and democratic forces that the multiparty system was restored in 1990.
Similarly, another black day falls on Poush 5. One year ago, former prime minister and CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli had dissolved the House of Representatives (HoR) in the wake of the nasty intra-party conflict. It was an unexpected and unconstitutional step that again planted the seed of instability in Nepali politics. Both the dissolutions showed the rulers’ anathema to the parliament, the highest bastion of democracy. The founding leader of Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Pushpa Lal knew the potency of parliament so he demanded that it be restored immediately without any condition to bring the democratic process back on track despite the fact that his party had only four members in the country’s earliest legislature.
Threat In Nepali Congress (NC)-dominated HoR, King Mahendra saw a threat to his freewheeling monarchical institution. It was understandable that he wanted to establish an autocratic kingship by disbanding the parliament but it was beyond comprehension why a communist prime minister dissolved the parliament where his own party NCP commanded near two-thirds majority. Oli dissolved the parliament second time, too, although the Supreme Court reinstated it, terming it unconstitutional. The Federal Parliament formed following the three-tier elections in 2017 possessed necessary political wherewithal to convert Nepal into a robust welfare state based on the new constitution.
While the coup d’état of Poush 1 pushed back democratic process by decades, the regression of Poush 5 dealt a lethal blow to Nepali communist movement and put a question mark to the ability of Nepali communists to deliver stability, development and good governance. The House dissolution had negative repercussions for the UML itself. It was removed from power in the centre and four out of seven provinces. The then NCP was dissolved into three factions – UML, CPN-Maoist Centre and CPN-Socialist Unified. It has effectively eliminated the possibility of forming a majority communist government in foreseeable future.
It was strange that no UML convention representative dared to raise question over the HoR dissolution during their recent conclave in Chitwan. When the communist cadres stop questioning the wrongdoings of their leaders, their party can’t be a Marxist or communist one but a crowd of fawners and flatterers devoid of ideological sharpness, intellectual insight and moral clarity. Now the federal parliament where the UML has the largest number of lawmakers has become dysfunctional. The UML is itself involved in rendering the House fruitless, undermining the popular sovereignty.
With judicial activism and alliance of five parties, the political regression was kept in check. On Poush 5, the leaders of five coalition parties – NC, CPN-Maoist Centre, CPN-Unified Socialist, Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) and Rastriya Janamorcha - came together to denounce the regression at a function organised by Socialist Press Organisation. They marked Poush 5 as a black day and cautioned that the threat of regression had not yet subsided. Unified Socialist chairman Madhav Kumar Nepal accused Oli of pushing the country on the path of regression in the garb of communism. Government spokesman and Minister for Communication and Information Technology Gyanendra Bahadur Karki said that the five-party coalition thwarted Oli’s attempts to finish off the constitution.
However, there is a challenge for the coalition partners to keep their unity intact till the upcoming polls amidst the continued disruption of parliament by the opposition. They require running as per the common minimum programme while forging consensus on external and internal policy, and delivery of public goods. There should be coherence between the constitution’s vision and the policy adopted to implement the national charter. This is necessary to consolidate the federal republic and avert potential threats to it Nonetheless, creating a common ground among the political parties on economic and foreign policy has always been tricky in Nepal. This is a reason why the coalition partners have been sharply divided on the much-talked about US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) fund. The ruling NC wants to approve it at all cost while other coalition members have demanded amendment to its controversial provisions prior to parliamentary ratification. In order to sort out their differences on MCC, the government has formed a three-member committee under senior leader of Unified Socialist and former prime minister Jhalanath Khanal. This is the right step towards finding consensus on it but given their deep differences and the US reluctance to revise the MCC Nepal Compact at this stage, there are doubts that the coalition partners will take a uniform stance on it.
Speculations There have been widespread speculations whether the coalition government might fall apart over the MCC. UML chair Oli reportedly said that his party was ready to give support to endorse the MCC from the parliament and run NC-led one-party government if Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba agreed to disband the coalition government. Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda said that Deuba refused to take Oli's bait and expressed commitment not to leave the five-party coalition in the lurch over the MCC. It is preposterous to use foreign aid as an instrument to fulfil parochial political interests. Such an act can make foreign policy ineffective and tarnish the country’s international image. This will not only polarise the domestic forces but also pose a question to the legitimacy of the elected government and ownership of development projects executed under foreign assistance.
(Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal, Subedi writes regularly on politics, foreign affairs and other contemporary issues. firstname.lastname@example.org)