Nepali political forces failed to strike a deal even as President Ram Baran Yadav’s fourth deadline to the parties, to come up with a consensus Prime Minister, ended on Monday evening.
While Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ is understood to be agreeable to hand over power to Nepali Congress (NC), Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and Madhesi allies are opposed to a pact without firm guarantees on elections, peace process and constitutional issues.
In the past week, Mr. Prachanda and senior leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara have been in talks with NC president Sushil Koirala; general secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula; central committee member, Minendra Rijal; and UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal.
Maoist and NC sources told The Hindu that the two parties have ‘almost’ agreed on a ‘package deal’. This would entail a pact on election date, election system, ownership of work done by committees in the last Constituent Assembly (CA), and a national unity government led by Mr. Koirala. Dr. Bhattarai’s Cabinet would endorse the pact and recommend to Mr. Yadav to use his ‘power to remove obstacles’ to clear the way for polls, and the President would appoint Mr. Koirala as P.M. the same day.
On Sunday, after meeting the President, Mr. Prachanda had told reporters that politics of consensus had been re-engineered and there would be a pact by Monday.
P.M. not on board
But Dr. Bhattarai was not on board with the pact. He has maintained that politically, as the government that called for polls, the current dispensation was best positioned to hold elections. He has also argued that constitutionally, there is no way to appoint a new PM ‘in the absence of Parliament’.
But in the past two weeks, he has informally told interlocutors he is ready to ‘make way’, but NC should first join his government while contentious issues are being resolved. NC has rejected the possibility of joining the Bhattarai Cabinet.
Late on Monday evening, a PMO source sent a text message to The Hindu which read, “After concluding the peace process, forming commissions, agreeing on constitutional amendments related to elections, and pact on all aspects to guarantee April-May elections including election date, the current government should be transformed into a national unity government for some time. After that, leadership can be handed over to NC. In case there is no understanding on all these issues, then consensus government can be formed under a Madhesi party or smaller party. This is the PM and party’s proposal.”
Dr. Bhattarai told Mr. Prachanda on Monday morning that he would not hand over leadership without such a deal to an ‘anti-constitution and anti-federal’ figure like Mr. Koirala.
Knowledgeable sources added that the meeting between the two Maoist leaders was tense, with Dr. Bhattarai saying no decision should be taken without consulting Madhesi allies.
‘Need internal homework’
Maoist spokesperson Agni Sapkota admitted that the party needed to do more ‘internal home-work’, but underplayed the rift and said both the chairman and PM Dr. Bhattarai wanted an agreement soon.
Most constituents of the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), a ruling alliance partner, backed Dr. Bhattarai. Madhesi leaders suspect NC will not hold polls, and thus power must not be handed over without ‘iron-clad guarantees’. A minister said: “There will be a new polarisation, with many Madhesi parties staying out of a Koirala-led government even if NC and Maoists strike a deal.”