Consensus must endure

Issue 14 - Apr 2008

Dinesh Wagle

For some in Nepal, this is the time to reflect upon the past and see what really went wrong. For others, it is the time to get ready to face the challenges of the days ahead.

Two of the largest political parties—Prime Minister Koirala’s Nepali Congress and the moderate Communist Party of Nepal–United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML)—are reviewing their humiliating and unexpected defeat in the April 10 polls. The surprisingly victorious CPN (Maoist)—former rebels who signed a peace agreement in 2006 to halt the decade-long insurgency—-is preparing itself to assume the leadership of the next government. In the final tally, the Maoists have garnered 220 out of 575 seats that were up for grabs. A further 26 seats of the 601-seat Constituent Assembly will be filled by the prime minister’s appointees, with the consensus of the ruling parties.

Though it emerged as the largest party in the assembly, the CPN(Maoist) do not have the majority to form the government on its own. There is also another hurdle: according to the interim constitution currently in force, the prime minister—who also serves as the acting head of state—can only be replaced by two-thirds majority in the assembly. Thus if a Maoist leader becomes the prime minister, the electoral arithmetic will make it impossible to replace him.

This is causing a degree of unease among those outside the Maoist camp, especially the Nepali Congress, and foreign powers like the United States. Thus the question: what if a coalition of non-Maoist parties in the assembly form the government?