In a special address to the nation to mark the completion of a year in office on Tuesday evening, Nepal’s Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai staunchly defended his record and ruled out resignation. He also blamed ‘status-quoists’ for the death of the Constituent Assembly (CA); took credit for progress in the peace process; highlighted constraints in governance; and laid out minimal conditions for any political agreement.
Highlighting his achievements, Dr. Bhattarai said his government had ended the situation of ‘one state, two armies’. “Three days after the government was formed, we handed over the keys of arms containers to the Special Committee. In April, the Nepal Army was given the responsibility of the cantonments, combatants and containers.” This, he said, was possible because of ‘flexibility of the Maoists and sacrifice of the People’s Liberation Army’. He added that the remaining process of integration would commence soon.
Dr. Bhattarai devoted most of his speech to address the criticism that he had failed to fulfil his promise of delivering the constitution and ‘unilaterally dissolved the CA’. The Premier said to avert the demise of the CA, his government had presented a bill to amend the constitution and extend the CA’s term by three months. In a reference to the Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), he pointed out, “But those who opposed extension, and even walked out of the government on the issue, are now blaming us.”
Framing the political contest as between ‘status quoist’ and ‘pro-change forces’, he emphasised that after the establishment of the republic, the key agenda was ‘federalism based on identity and rights of oppressed nationalities and regions’. Dr Bhattarai said the CA, despite making progress, had got stuck on state restructuring. “We could not leave the agenda of change, and our co-travellers in the CA could not internalize the key agenda of change.”
At a time when the opposition parties have demanded his immediate resignation, Dr Bhattarai said he was ready to give way as soon as there was a forward-looking ‘package deal’ among political parties. “I have no desire to stay on in this office indefinitely... But who will take responsibility for the ensuing instability and anarchy if I walk away in haste and anger, without determining an appropriate way forward?”
He said that minimal conditions for any future political agreement were ‘federalism based on identity and rights of nationalities and regions, constitution with federalism, and a constitution from a Constituent Assembly’. He added, “Neither the peace process nor constitution-writing can be complete without addressing aspirations of women, Madhesis, indigenous peoples, oppressed regions, Dalits, and Muslims”.