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Protests will be a test of the opposition’s strength

NOV 19 -  

The parties are at odds over the formation of a national unity government to lead the country into elections. While the opposition parties are adamant on Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s resignation, the UCPN (Maoist) has insisted it cannot accept a unity government led by either the NC or UML. As a result, the deadlock continues. In conversation with the Post’s Bidushi Dhungel and Kamal Dev Bhattarai, UCPN (Maoist) Politburo member and a close aide of UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Haribol Gajurel, spoke about the deadlock, his party’s role and possible confrontation with the president’s office.

It looks like the process of reaching an agreement is stuck on the issue of forming a national consensus government. Is that so?

The issue of government formation is so sensitive because without an agreement first, resignation of the current government may lead to a constitutional crisis. That’s why the Maoists haven’t resigned. Once there’s a package agreement, then there’s a framework for how things will follow in the constitution-making process, making sure that there’s no room for other actors to meddle. But without that agreement, there’s too much left undone which may invite interference.

Where exactly is the process stuck in the agreement on a package deal?

In terms of electoral constituencies, inclusion and the like, there is no real disagreement. But the fact that things are stuck on the issue of government formation makes us suspicious.




Why this obsession on part of the opposition with the government formation first?

The fact is that the constitution has to be promulgated either way, even if there is an election to a new CA. Even then, there will be a need for political agreement. After all, it wasn’t because of the parliamentarians that we couldn’t promulgate a new constitution the first time around.

Why is PM Bhattarai so reluctant to resign if it could break the deadlock?

We’ve been trying to make sure that the election happens. But the demand that the PM should resign now is unreasonable and the opposition should realise that it’s not the same as when MK Nepal or Jhala Nath Khanal resigned as there is no parliament—who would the PM resign to?

Talking about the package deal, could there be a compromise on a national unity government led by the NC or the UML?

We should all just move forward with a national unity government under PM Baburam Bhattarai since his government called the election in the first place.

But as a token of compromise, could the leadership of the unity government be given to another party?

Why should this government resign to give the leadership to NC or another party? There is no logic behind it.

Maoist party Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has already said that since the opposition is unwilling to go for a government led by the current PM, there will have to be alternative arrangements. What are they?

There are many ideas that are doing the rounds and for the sake of an agreement, various alternatives may be possible. But first the NC and UML have to come forward and say that we need to look for alternative arrangements.

If the opposition is unwilling to accept PM Bhattarai, then what alternatives does the Maoist party have in mind?

The opposition doesn’t agree to the current PM, but is not suggesting any alternatives. If we come up with an alternative and they are not ok with that alternative as well, then what? We’ve already said in the four points handed over to the president that a national unity government should be formed under the leadership of Baburam Bhattarai for the election and then an NC government to promulgate the constitution. But they won’t even come to us with a possible candidate and instead put all the blame on us.

If the opposition is not willing to accept the current PM, is there another candidate that would be agreeable from within the Maoist party or the alliance?

For talks to get that far, first the opposition has to come to us with alternatives to PM Baburam Bhattarai that they would be willing to accept.

One school of thought argues that since the current government is led by the Maoists, it is their responsibility to reach out to the opposition and strike an agreement.

That’s definitely true and we have been playing that role. But the way in which the opposition is moving by inciting the president and putting him forward—why are they doing that and trying to create a tussle?

Can we say that the chances of CA revival are now dead? Is that a closed chapter?

Nothing is a closed chapter in politics until the final decision is taken and agreed on. But now it looks more likely that we’ll go for an election.

Since it seems unlikely that there will be an agreement on government leadership, there has also been talk of a neutral PM being appointed. Is that a possibility?

Our concern is that we can’t just talk about government leadership—it needs to come in a package with other issues. Once they are settled, then we can sit and say “Ok, let’s deal with the government formation issue in this way.” That would make us more open to alternatives. What if they take leadership and linger with the election or not conduct them at all? Look at what happened after Gyanendra took over.

Are you saying that the NC and UML would work together for state capture?

No, well, once power is centralised in one place, then it could be misused. In the same way that the opposition is fearful that the Maoists are trying to centralise power, can we not fear that also? If you look at the integration process, many people are saying the process wasn’t fair. But we took a huge risk and closed that chapter. So where’s the positive response for that risk we took? Judging by the opposition’s actions now, it looks like they don’t even want a new constitution. We’re worried that maybe they want to revive the 1990 constitution—as many of them have even said. If that weren’t the case, then why aren’t they acting seriously on the workings of the ex-king for example?

The general public is by and large disillusioned by the entire process and it doesn’t seem as though any party is serious about finishing this process. What could be the way out?

The opposition is now going for protests. Through this, they will be able to gauge the extent to which the people are on their side. Right now, the opposition feels that the people are with them and we feel that the people are with us. But once they get through their protest phase, they will see where they stand in reality and that will change the dynamics of negotiations. It’s through these kinds of struggles that a resolve is found. That’s what happened in 2010 as well when we took to the streets. They may think the Maoists have split and are weak and that’s why they’re in no mood for negotiating but when their protest programmes come into full swing, they will see where they stand and hopefully, act accordingly. The coming weeks will be test for the opposition and that test will have a result too, which will hopefully put an end to this deadlock. A resolve always comes through struggle.

The election was slated for November 22 and when that day passes, is the PM not obliged to resign? Will it not create a conflict with the president?

The president has made it clear that he will take no steps towards confrontation. If his words change, then we’ll see how it goes. And as for the PM resigning, as I’ve said before, there is no meaning in his resignation—it will only make the situation worse. Even if the PM wants to resign, the situation is such that, for now, he cannot. After November 22, more focused talks will take place. Ultimately, a national unity government will be formed under PM Baburam Bhattarai as there is no other option. The international community also has a role to play here.

What kind of role are you referring to?

As long as the Congress and UML don’t accept Maoist leadership, the Maoists won’t accept an NC-UML leadership. The international community is not keen on a neutral prime minister because they have already established good relationship with the parties. The situation in Nepal is not only figured by Nepalis—there’s international interest, which is at play within every party and among the parties too.

After November 22, there is talk of the president resorting to the Interim Constitution’s Article 38: 1 to call for a national consensus government. Would the Maoists accept such a step?

Any step that the president takes which lies outside of a political agreement cannot be accepted by the Maoists. If the president does make such a move, it would only strengthen the Maoists further. That’s because the people are with the Maoists, not with the president. That would take politics to another direction—the Maoists will not sit by idly.

Posted on: 2012-11-19 08:48