Neutral government won’t deliver May election

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DEC 24 -

If the election to a new CA is to take place in April/May 2013, an agreement among political parties needs to be reached within a few days. With the Maoists and the Madhesi Morcha having recently indicated that they may be willing to accept a government led by a force outside of their ruling alliance, the Nepali Congress is hopeful to reach an agreement on a new government to be led by the party president Sushil Koirala. NC leader Minendra Rijal has been very much a part of the most recent rounds of talks and negotiations. In conversation with the Post’s Bidushi Dhungel, Rijal spoke about the likelihood of a deal, a neutral government and India’s role in the process. Excerpts:

Do you think an agreement on a package deal is imminent?

I think so because the Maoists have opened doors for a PM from outside the party and the ruling alliance. Likewise, the Madhesi Morcha has also opened doors for a PM from outside their alliance. Taking both decisions together, that means they are ready for a new government, and ready to accept that the incumbent PM should go. Until this decision, our position was juxtaposed to that of the ruling coalition. But now, since we put forth our party president as a candidate for PM, there is room for negotiations.

Do you think the Madhesi Morcha in particular is ready to accept Sushil Koirala as the new PM?

 I feel that we have been able to communicate to the Madhesis that NC is serious about the issues which they have raised, such as the demand for identity, inclusion and representation. I also looked at the agreement that they decided on Saturday. Going through it, I do not see anything that we would be against or not ok with. I only browsed through it and haven’t looked at it in detail, but it seems we would be fine with the platform they have decided on.

One argument doing the rounds is that there has been no consensus thus far because of the fact that India is not interested in seeing Sushil Koirala as the next PM. Do you agree?

The way that this idea has been reported in the press is way out of proportion. Nepali Congress has a history of nearly 70 years and its relationship with India—its government and political parties—along with NC’s relationship with all other external forces has been pretty much institutionalised. All external forces understand the parameters under which NC operates. Indian leaders know Sushil Koirala quite well, in the same way that he knows them. So I see no reason why Indians would be at all hesitant about Sushil Koirala becoming PM. On the contrary, I think they’d be thrilled if the political parties in Nepal could agree on Sushil Koirala as the next PM.

What then are India’s interests in Nepal right now?

Of course any country will have legitimate interest in their neighbouring countries. India is the most important country in the region—it is the only global player in South Asia. Naturally, they’d like to see the countries in the region being peaceful and foster a good relationship with them. We have been going through a difficult phase since the insurgency period. We wanted to establish peace and progress. India also wanted the same, and when we went to sign the 12-point understanding, we had India’s best goodwill. I think it’s in India’s legitimate interest to see this process reach its natural conclusion so they can see Nepal as a peaceful democratic country that is striving towards prosperity.

No Nepali should be uncomfortable with that. But I’m not implying that Nepal and India have never had differing interests. But we have a long history of sorting them out and getting to a resolution. We probably have one of the best bilateral relationships possible between two countries.

There is also talk of the formation of a neutral government as agreement between parties seems elusive as the window for agreement to hold elections in April/May next year is fast closing.

I don’t think that will happen. The President has all along indicated that the current crisis is for the political parties to sort out and recommend an agreeable government to take the country to elections. He has, until now, played a constructive role and has wide popularity so I don’t think he’d do anything that is not recommended by political parties. Second, those who are arguing in favour of a neutral government have a misguided perception. If we were in a scenario where simply holding elections would be enough to move the process forward, then a neutral government that could guarantee free and fair elections would have been sufficient. After the election, the party that wins could have formed a government. That’s a regular functioning democracy.

But for us, it’s not an election for parliament. We still need to deliver on our promises to the Nepali people by promulgating a constitution that institutionalises a federal democratic republic. Immediately after the election, we need to attend to this great task. With having political parties where there is a reasonable amount of trust among each other, it won’t be possible to write a constitution.

If political parties aren’t supporting the government, how can we hold elections? How can we draft a constitution? I cannot think of a solution that doesn’t have the consent of political parties.

Does that mean a neutral government is completely off the table?

I’d be less than honest if I said that it hasn’t been talked about at all. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s not an option that going to resolve the problem we face today, nor is it an option that can lead us to elections in May. The only option is a government is almost universally supported and led by political parties. It’s an option but not an option that would move the process forward.

Is an election in April/May possible?

Without an election in May, we’ll be heading for a long and difficult transition. We’d have to wait till October/November due to climatic situations, which is almost a year away from now. You’ve seen the level of difficulty we are facing today. The deep distrust among parties, the turbulent economy, which we are all seeing are very real and If we are forced to let this continue for another year, I guess it would be almost impossible to manage the country and take it to another election. So May election is absolutely necessary.

If we can form a widely-accepted government, the entire national mood will change, allowing for the election to take place. The Election Commission says it needs about 120 days and we have that. Say we reach an agreement before the President leaves, and then we have plenty of time. We can get it by Monday (today) if we try, as doing things last minute has become characteristic of Nepali political parties.  

Does the NC see the incumbent PM as a roadblock to this agreement?

I do not see any ideas or any floating packages as a roadblock. As for the PM, I think he must have realised by now that it’s time for him to go. He has been saying that the election is a priority for him and I feel he will be vindicated if he can get the process moving, even if it means he has to step down. Considering he says he has no love for the PM chair, it shouldn’t be a problem. We want to give him a dignified exit.

Posted on: 2012-12-24 08:40