Sunday, July 09, 2006

Ailing Premier And Politics Of Inertia

Citing the inertia gripping the government, Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal wants ailing Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to delegate responsibilities to his two deputies.
Deputy Prime Ministers Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli and Amik Serchan can’t agree on who’s senior between them. Before that conundrum can crystallize, Prime Minister Koirala comes out with a warning to all from his hospital bed not to spread rumors about his illness at such a critical moment for the nation.
Koirala’s camp is responsible for much of the confusion. The prime minister’s doctors say his health has improved considerably. But they insist he must remain hospitalized for another 10 days or so. Nepalis, for their part, are still trying to figure out why a premier with an unspecified ailment relating to the lungs returns from Bangkok after undergoing laser surgery of the prostate.
Within the House of Representatives (HoR), which reconvened after a three-week adjournment intended to placate the Maoists, the deliberations are becoming rather ominous. When Rastriya Janashakti Party president Surya Bahadur Thapa criticized the government’s haste in meeting the Maoists’ demand for the dissolution of the legislature, he won instant acclamation from Nepali Congress and UML members.
Meanwhile, Pashupati Sumshere Rana, the president of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party whose rivalry with Thapa goes back to the Panchayat decades, castigates the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) for refusing to recognize his party as the opposition.
The fact that Oli read out the Koirala government’s policy speech at the HoR can’t settle the succession issue. The Nepali Congress considers itself the head of the SPA. Party vice-president Sushil Koirala and general secretary Ram Chandra Poudel each considers himself Koirala’s legitimate successor.
Neither is likely to accept the other for the top job, but that wouldn’t stop them from joining hands to block the chances of Shekhar Koirala, the prime minister’s nephew whose meteoric rise within the party has irked the old guard.
That’s why the motive of the UML general secretary merits greater scrutiny. Madhav Nepal insists a transfer of responsibilities is crucial to prevent “regressive forces” from taking advantage of the mess. He hasn’t yet cited the fact that the army led the birthday celebrations of King Gyanendra to bolster his contention.
Perhaps he won’t, especially if his real intention to clear the way for his own rise to the premiership. After all, he was once the mainstream parties’ consensus candidate for the job until Koirala disavowed him at the 11th hour.
Internal UML dynamics, too, would appear to favor Nepal. To date, four men from the UML have become deputy prime minister – the first being Nepal himself. Bam Dev Gautam is best remembered for having sanctified the ex-panchas through his readiness to serve as Lokendra Bahadur Chand’s deputy in 1996.
Nepal sent Bharat Mohan Adhikary as the top UML representative in the multiparty government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba primarily to prevent Gautam or Oli from playing their own politics. Evidently, Adhikary couldn’t prevent the royal takeover. But he had exposed himself before that when he started justifying why the palace and security expenditures couldn’t be touched, contrary to the UML’s stand on the streets.
To contend with Oli, the leader of the dissident faction during the last UML general convention, Nepal would probably have to hammer the “inertia” angle hard enough.
In recent weeks, the UML general secretary has moved closer to the army, shielding the force from Maoist supremo Prachanda’s vitriol. Nepal has also stepped up consultations with Prachanda in an effort to boost overall confidence in the peace process.
Yet the UML chief’s strategy might not work. Oli might decide to endorse Serchan as acting premier to prevent Nepal from becoming the real one.