Nepal’s principal opposition party, Nepali Congress (NC), has formally nominated its president, Sushil Koirala, as the party’s candidate for consensus Prime Minister. The NC has been claiming leadership of the next government to hold elections. But the ruling Maoist-Madhesi alliance has asked the opposition to either join the Baburam Bhattarai-led government, or agree on constitutional issues before NC’s leadership can be accepted.
On Wednesday, the NC central committee decided on Mr. Koirala’s name. The nomination took place after both its allies in the opposition, and the ruling parties, told it that negotiations could not take place unless they had a candidate.
The party appeared to have settled its internal differences, with senior leaders Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel — other contenders — backing Mr. Koirala. An NC central committee member, not a part of any of the three factions, told The Hindu, “Koirala is confident but Deuba and Poudel feel he has little chance of gaining support of all other parties. They have consented to his name precisely because they think he won’t make it.”
In a meeting of the major parties later in the evening, the Maoists insisted on a ‘package deal’. Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ reiterated his proposal that they would accept NC’s leadership if it agreed on contentious constitutional issues like form of government and federalism.
Maoist spokesperson Agni Sapkota later told reporters, “The package should also include an agreement on how to clear constitutional and legal hurdles for polls, election date, national unity government, election system and number of seats, and filling in vacancies for constitutional offices. Government change cannot be the only agenda.”
NC general secretary and Mr. Koirala’s key adviser, Krishna Sitaula, said the parties had reached an agreement to hold elections in April-May, 2013. “If we revive the issue of contentious issues of the last Constituent Assembly (CA), we will not be able to hold elections.
We all agree that there should be a federalism, democracy, republicanism, inclusion and participation. The next CA should resolve all issues.”
After one deadline was missed, President Ram Baran Yadav has asked parties to come up with a consensus PM candidate by Thursday.
The need for an agreement is getting more urgent as the constitutional crisis deepens. The Election Commission (EC) has imposed a deadline of end-December to parties to come to a political pact if polls are to be held next spring. There are only two EC commissioners left in the five-member body, and they too retire next month with no provisions to make new appointments in the absence of parliament.
More than half of the Supreme Court bench will lie vacant from Thursday, since new judges cannot be appointed without parliamentary hearing either.
President Yadav has said he will step in and use his ‘power to remove obstacles’ if there is a political consensus on all issues.