Sunday, December 09, 2012

Deadlines and Lifelines

President Ram Baran Yadav is probably distraught enough by the discovery that he has far more bark than bite. But it must be said that, with each extension of the collective consensus deadline to the bickering political parties, his howl is turning into a yipping yowl. This must make Yadav want to make good on his threat by packing up and returning to life as a farmer.
The ruling Federal Democratic Republican Alliance, which seemed rather rattled by the first deadline President Yadav had set, has now issued its own ultimatum. If there is no consensus by December 12, the ruling alliance will expand the cabinet on its own.
The president’s frustration is understandable. Yadav is the only elected head of state Nepalis have had the good fortune of having. Although a professional politician, so far he has largely discharged his ceremonial duties with dignity and decorum. Yet the Nepali taxpayers pay him to do the things the politicos can’t, don’t or won’t.
Yadav’s reinstatement a few years ago of the army chief then Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal had sacked, prompting Dahal to resign, signified the emergence of an agile presidency, one capable of swerving on the task at hand and then stepping back.
Given the context of our recent political evolution, it would be unfair to blame Yadav for his current inertia. He could easily have copped out, claiming he was merely a figurehead obliged to go by guidelines of the government of the day. Yadav is not responsible for the fact that Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai today leads a government unimpeded by anything resembling basic constitutional propriety. That the president has even attempted to break the deadlock should count for something.
President Yadav, Maila Baje feels, should be heartened by the power of the status quo. Nepal continues to have a functioning government capable of ensuring the basic conditions needed for rudimentary existence. The brassy disarray in the opposition also shows that we have a vibrant democracy still trying to figure out a way ahead. The national discourse has taken a scope, tone and tenor that is no longer constrained by the composition of an elected assembly.
Politicians in power warn against a revival of the bad old autocratic days. Opposition leaders vow to sweep the Maoists onto the same dust heap the monarchy finds itself in. The principal political parties, despite their snarls, are happy with the status quo. Fresh elections might realign politics in undesirable ways.
Getting back to the original task of writing the constitution would bring back familiar headaches – and they could become far more severe with the second onset. The promulgation of a formal constitution – if that were possible at all – would circumscribe the power and privilege the eight parties feel eternally entitled to from those 19 magically tumultuous days almost seven springs ago.
The perfunctory concern notwithstanding, the international community is not unduly disturbed by developments here. Almost every alien player on this eerie playground is satisfied by its power of prevention or preemption. None can afford to lose a foothold in a key geostrategic region during this period of immense global transition, even if none knows precisely what it wants to achieve.
Instead, these players have collectedly figured out something subliminal. Nepalis tend to get riled up by we don’t want. For now, we don’t know what we do want – and that is good for them.
Admittedly, upholding the status quo comes with a price. Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai might end up with life tenure. President Yadav should be happy to acknowledge that this ensures his own survival.
If, over time, human biology becomes a problem here, let the Nepali Congress inherit the presidency and the Maoists the prime ministership in perpetuity. The political bickering will continue but the equilibrium will continue – until something gives.
The last time we had a serious premier-ceremonial head of state standoff, the regime lasted 104 years. And nobody blamed the Nepali people.