In a valedictory speech to the Nepal Assembly on Friday, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala announced he would ask President Ram Baran Yadav to begin the process of electing a new prime minister to lead the country after it had adopted the Constitution on September 20.
The announcement was expected as, according to the constitutional framework, a new government is due to be elected within “a week of the beginning of the first session of the House after the commencement of the new charter,” which was held on Friday.
This means the new government could be in place by October 9. But Mr. Koirala didn’t announce his resignation, nor has he indicated who the next Prime Minister will be, giving many in the Indian foreign policy establishment the hope that the new prime minister will be one more favourably disposed to India than the current PM-designate K.P. Oli.
It had been widely expected that the constitution had been cleared after a “deal” that Mr. Oli, who heads the Communist Party (Unified-Marxist-Leninist) or UML, would become the consensus candidate for PM.
But in the past few days, Mr. Oli , has made several statements criticizing India for what he calls a “blockade” at the India-Nepal border, even accusing India of “violating international law”. While India has denied the charge, the allegations haven’t gone away, and officials in New Delhi would have a harder time repairing relations with its neighbour with Mr. Oli at the helm.
There is even the hope that PM Sushil Koirala, who, despite all the tensions with India over the constitution and violence in the Terai has maintained good relations with the Modi government, will be re-elected as PM , or one of his other senior party members of the Nepali Congress would take the post. Much will depend on the support garnered by each of the ‘big-three’ as Mr. Koirala’s NC, Mr. Oli’s UML and Mr. Prachanda’s UCPN (Maoist) from the smaller parties in the heavily fractured Nepal assembly. At present, the NC has 207, the UML 173, and the Maoists have 84 party MPs, while 301 is the required figure for a majority.
Meanwhile Indian diplomats have gone into damage control mode to reduce the strain between New Delhi and Kathmandu over the constitution and the failed mission by foreign secretary S. Jaishankar to persuade Nepal to include more representation for Madhesis before adopting the constitution. India’s moves were criticized, mainly in Kathmandu, where the Indian flag and effigies of PM Modi were burnt by protestors who accused India of interference. In the past week, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj has met with two key ministers, commerce minister Sunil Bhadur Thapa in Delhi, and Foreign Minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey in New York to smooth over the situation. PM Koirala’s last move before addressing the parliament was to clear two amendments to the constitution that he hopes to have ratified on Sunday: assuaging Madhesi anger over constituency delineation and on proportional inclusion. If those amendments are cleared, officials feel the current standoff in the Terai may soon be at an end.
Key to salvaging ties
All eyes will then be on the political developments of the next week, and the choice of Nepal’s next Prime Minister, which will be equally crucial to salvage ties between India and Nepal, that have suffered a major blow in the past month.