With the swearing-in of Baburam Bhattarai as Nepal's new Prime Minister, the political pendulum has swung squarely back to where it ought to have been in the first place. A Maoist-led coalition is now in place, with the Madhesi parties comprising the other component. The Unified Marxists-Leninists and the Nepali Congress are not part of the new arrangement but Dr. Bhattarai has indicated that the formation of a national government with the participation of all major political parties will be a priority. The Nepali Maoists won the Constituent Assembly elections of 2008, emerging with many more seats than the UML and the NC. However, since the former rebels did not have enough MPs to form a government by themselves, let alone ensure the writing of a new constitution, it was evident that coalition building was the way to go. The first Maoist-led coalition under Prachanda — which collapsed in the face of opposition from the Nepali army, the UML, the NC, and India — may not have done much to further the twin tasks of constitution writing and concluding the peace process. But the opportunistic coalition under Madhav Kumar Nepal, which was in office for nearly two years and had tacit support from hardline elements in India who never reconciled themselves to the emergence of the Maoists as a parliamentary force, was far worse. It was only with the election of the UML's Jhalanath Khanal as Prime Minister in February 2011 that the political logjam began to clear. Today Dr. Bhattarai's emergence as head of a new government offers Nepal a new opportunity to complete its tryst with destiny.
While the principal challenge remains the drafting of a new constitution in accordance with the political, socio-economic, and cultural aspirations of Nepal's peoples, this task cannot be accomplished without tangible steps being taken towards completion of the peace process. The Maoists must disband their erstwhile Peoples' Liberation Army, with an agreed number of former combatants being integrated into the Nepal Army. At the same time, the Nepal Army must be democratised, in keeping with the temper and spirit of the new nation that emerged after the abolition of the monarchy. Numerous proposals have been made to accomplish the task of integration only to flounder in the face of intransigence by hardline elements within the Maoists, the Army, or other political parties. Now that the Maoists are back at the helm, every effort must be made to ensure the speedy resolution of the military question. The term of the CA was extended by three months on Monday night and will now run till November 30. Dr. Bhattarai and his colleagues, as well as all political parties, thus have 90 days to push the peace process and constitution writing seriously. The clock has started ticking. Given the differences on major constitutional issues, they have not a second to lose.