Nepal has just averted another constitutional crisis. A week after Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal resigned, a national government could not be formed by Sunday, the deadline for completing the process. Hours before this time limit expired, President Ram Baran Yadav gave a new deadline, Wednesday.
Perhaps leaders of the country’s fractious political parties will be able to cobble together a government. But missed deadlines—be they those of framing a Constitution before the tenure of the constituent assembly expired or the 17 rounds of parliamentary voting early this year to choose a prime minister—are only symptomatic of a deeper malaise.
At the root of the problem is the fact that Nepal as a country is not ready for revolutionary changes. As with any other old civilization, far-reaching changes are bound to be resisted even if there are strong impulses in that direction. The bearers of this desire, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), have the largest number of seats in the constituent assembly. But their number is more than matched by the more moderate Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) (CPN-UML) and other centrist formations. The result is a grinding deadlock that defies easy resolution. Almost all the efforts of the Maoists, from “integrating” their politicized and armed members into the Nepal army or bending the army chief to their will, have been checkmated.
That is not all. Like other South Asian political parties, there is competition within parties as well. The outgoing Prime Minister Khanal’s travails were partly the result of the opposition to him from within his party CPN-UML. If anything, he had a far greater measure of support from the Maoist boss, Prachanda. The latter, too, has serious competition within his party from other, more reasonable, leaders such as Baburam Bhattarai.
In the short run, leaders from different parties may indeed thrash out a solution. A “unity” government may indeed come about. But that would be a patchwork solution and not a lasting one.
It is important that India appears to be equidistant from this bout of wrestling within Nepal’s domestic politics. Its interventions should be careful and its support should go to those parties that favour democracy—in substance and not mere form.
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