Although political parties in Nepal have a history of reaching an agreement at the end moment, the incessant elections pose numerous questions over the future of the peace process, constitution drafting and a stable political environment.
Nepal's Parliament voted and failed to elect a Prime Minister for the fifteenth time on 1 November 2010. After Prachanda’s withdrawal, the sole contender in the past eight elections, Nepali Congress (NC) leader Ram Chandra Poudel received far less than the simple majority required in the house of 601. While the Madhesi parties remained neutral, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) abstained in the election. As the next round is scheduled for 4 November, the election for Prime Minister appears to be unending, wherein the Maoists and the UML are asking the Speaker of the Constituent Assembly to terminate the electoral process. But it requires the consent of the Nepali Congress, which in turn is demanding a “peace package deal” that consists of firm Maoist commitment to the peace process and a broad understanding on constitutional issues.
Apart from the enactment of a new Constitution for Nepal, the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants was a major component of the peace process. In this regard, the parties have still not acknowledged the volume of work that has to be accomplished before the set deadline. The much-awaited process of integration and rehabilitation of over 19,000 Maoist combatants is yet to start under the supervision of the Special Committee (SC), the government-formed body to supervise, integrate and rehabilitate Maoist combatants. Surprisingly, the SC has not even convened since its inception on 16 September 2010, despite having to make a number of decisions, such as the number of combatants to be integrated, harmonization of the PLA ranks in the state security forces, finalization of rehabilitation packages for combatants and the standard norms to be met by the combatants to join the national security forces of their choice before the beginning of the integration process.
At this juncture, UNMIN’s 100 days extension of its tenure comes to an end on 15 January 2011. It has been denied further extension after this deadline. Though the parties have expressed their willingness to complete the process before the expiry of UNMIN’s tenure, the growing mistrust among the parties on major contentious issues will have serious repercussions on the successful completion of the peace process. If UNMIN leaves before the Maoist combatants are fully integrated, there will be a vacuum in the rehabilitation process. However, the international community has been intermittently encouraging the political parties, despite their reluctant attitude and the slow movement of the peace process, for a coordinated approach towards the formation of a stable government and a finalization of the constitution process.
As per the renewed deadline, the statute, the centerpiece of the peace process has to be promulgated in May 2011 and the first draft should be produced for discussion on 17 November 2010 in the Constituent Assembly. Out of 11 parliamentary committees entrusted with addressing different aspects of the new constitution, only 3 have completed their draft so far. Contentious issues such as form of legislature have yet to get the consensus of all major parties in the CA. Since UCPM (M) is the largest party in the CA and its Chairman Prachanda has been appointed as the coordinator of a seven-member high level task force, Maoists consent on every aspect of the new Constitution is essential to get the statute drafted successfully. Simultaneously, utilizing their prominence in the present political context in Nepal, UCPN (M) intends to capitalize on a majority of their demands in favour of them. Apart from their aspiration of forming the next government, Maoists are determined to resolve the big question over PLA’s integration into the National Army before entering into the Constitution drafting process.
Despite knowing that NC would not get the required votes, the NC candidate, Ram Chandra Paudel, continued to contest in the election as sole contender, demanding the Maoists to give a timetable to conclude the halted peace process and consensus on the enactment of the Constitution. The uncompromised Maoists have been challenging the caretaker government in all possible ways. Even after being repeatedly warned by the Nepal Finance Ministry regarding a severe finance crunch in the treasury, the caretaker government was not allowed to table the budget by the Maoists. As the Nepali financial year ended in mid-July, the inability of the caretaker government to introduce the new budget has been forcing the country into another dire crisis with no money to pay salaries, pensions, state-run projects and purchase fuel from India.
An evident fierce fight for power among the parties has not only jeopardized the political stability but also ruined the chances of a successful end of the peace process. It appears that the squabbling parties could fail the May 2011 deadline to an enactment of the new Constitution as well. Keeping aside their self-centered interests, all the parties including the UCPN (M) must find a legitimate democratic resolution for all outstanding issues for the cause of national interest.