The U.S. ambassador in Kathmandu, Nancy Powell, is actively pushing for Girija Prasad Koirala to remain Prime Minister despite the Maoist victory in the elections.
26 April 2008
U.S. subverting Nepal poll mandate
KATHMANDU: After first “congratulating the people of Nepal on their historic Constitutional Assembly election,” the United States is now seeking to subvert the electorate’s mandate by lobbying against the Maoists heading the next coalition government.
According to political and diplomatic sources, the U.S. ambassador in Kathmandu, Nancy Powell, is “actively pushing” the idea that Girija Prasad Koirala should continue as Prime Minister.
Under the interim constitution, all major decisions, including the appointment or removal of the Prime Minister, must be taken by consensus, failing which by a two-thirds majority. With the encouragement of the Americans, a section of the Nepali Congress (NC) leadership is now citing this provision to argue that the Maoists will first have to oust Mr. Koirala before they can stake a claim to the top post.
“Suicidal for party”
The American suggestion which one NC leader in an interview to The Hindu described as “suicidal for the party” runs counter to the belief of Indian and other diplomats here that a Maoist-led government is inevitable given the scale of their victory.
The CA consists of 601 seats, 575 of which are elected. Of these, the Maoists have 220, or 38.2 per cent, the NC only 110 and the Unified Marxist-Leninists (UML) 103. The four Madhesi parties have 85 seats between them. A further 26 seats will be filled by nomination on a pro rata basis.
In the current coalition based on the “interim legislature,” the NC, with 40 per cent of the seats, has not just the prime ministership but also the defence, home and finance portfolios. In line with this practice, Prachanda, chairman of the Nepali Maoists, says his party will now head the coalition government and keep the three top ministries to itself.
Though some observers feel the “GPK as PM” line is meant to pressure the Maoists into yielding at least one top portfolio to the NC or UML in an eventual coalition government, there is a fear that the proposal will take on a life of its own as other players who feel threatened by the Maoists such as the Palace and Army brass — latch on to it.
Last week, the entire debate within the NC was over whether the party should join the coalition led by the Maoists or not. But when the Central Working Committee of the NC met on Thursday to take stock of the party’s defeat, senior leaders openly challenged the Maoists’ right to lead the government.
A second ‘proposal’ that is being floated to prevent the Maoists from forming a stable government is an amendment to the interim constitution to allow the Prime Minister to be removed by simple majority as a condition for allowing Maoist leader Prachanda to become PM.
Since the Maoists will have more than one-third of the seats in the CA, the argument goes, there will be no check should they refuse to hold elections again. The Maoist leadership rejects these arguments.
“When the interim constitution itself spells out the lifespan of the CA and mandates fresh elections within a maximum period of two years and six months, where is the question of the Maoists delaying elections?” Mr. Prachanda told The Hindu. “Would any of these proposals or formulas have been made if the NC or UML had been in our position?” he asked. “That is the true test of how valid these proposals are.”
The Maoists fear the new emphasis on the “politics of numbers” will vitiate the consensual spirit that the CA needs to write Nepal’s new constitution.
Mr. Prachanda says the electorate’s mandate is for a coalition government led by the Maoists. “This is a time when all the parties have to work together the Maoists, the NC, UML, the [Madhesi Janadhikar] Forum and others.”
Role for Koirala
Asked what role he envisaged for Mr. Koirala, Mr. Prachanda said the “guardianship” of the NC leader had been crucial in pushing the peace process and ensuring that elections to the CA were held properly. “At the same time, he has repeatedly said he wants to retire from active politics and this must also be respected. And yet, we feel some way must be found for him to continue to play the role of a guardian. My view is that given his age and his own sentiments, the proper way to honour him would not be to insist on his involvement in the government or day-to-day politics. We have to find another way of honouring him. But if he wants, we are open-minded on this,” said Mr. Prachanda. “I told him we are prepared to talk about this.”