Sunday, February 09, 2014

Managing Transitions Within The Transition

The question arising from the six-point agreement between the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) ostensibly pertains to the steadiness of the new government expected to take shape this week.
With Nepali Congress president Sushil Koirala preparing to assume the premiership, and the UML’s Bam Dev Gautam set to serve as his principal deputy, implementation of and adherence with the new agreed framework would probably be subsumed in matters of day-to-day governance.
However, the real question thrown up by the political developments of the past two weeks will persist: how long will it be before the UML’s K.P. Sharma Oli steps into the top job?
The realignment of forces in the UML galvanized a political process that was almost moribund since the election of the new constituent assembly in November. Granted, the Nepali Congress, by dint of its being the largest party in the assembly, was required to sort out its leadership tangles first. Given the factional deal-making that preceded it, Koirala’s election as parliamentary party leader, Maila Baje thinks, offers enough pointers to kind of battles he will have to face within the party. All this while striving to fulfill the grandiose promise of bringing out the new constitution within a year.
The spectacle in the UML, though, is far more substantial. Oli won the parliamentary party leadership by reaching a stark if not entirely sensational compromise with Gautam and Ishwar Pokharel. If anything, the perception that Oli’s triumph over Jhal Nath Khanal as leader of the party in the assembly represented more of his victory over Madhav Kumar Nepal will drive the narrative ever more strongly.
With Gautam ensconced in government, Oli can be expected to use the next few weeks to consolidate his hand for the real prize: the UML’s chairmanship. The parliamentary party’s leadership alone positions Oli as a serious contender for the premiership, should that opportunity arise. But he comes from a tradition where the party towers above everything else. Moreover, he has conceived a course that extends beyond winning the UML chairmanship during the party convention in April. In a succession plan worthy of our northern neighbors, Oli has anointed Gautam and Pokharel as second- and third-line leaders in the hope of consolidating his own claim to the premiership.
Having endured the initial shock of defeat, Oli’s rivals in the UML are rising to respond. Here, too, Oli seems to have preempted things. By offering Khanal the presidency, he has sought to isolate Nepal. Among the fiercest critics of the Maoists in public, Oli has also made conciliatory gestures towards the former rebels, in which effort Gautam should prove a valuable ally.
But all to what effect? Politically, the notion of ‘new Nepal’ has been mangled so mercilessly that each Nepali is now free to conceive of it in his or her own image. Simply put, it’s not about us – at least not yet.
As the dominant external stakeholders have enhanced their power and influence with the election of the new assembly, they are still struggling to determine how best Nepal could serve their respective interests in a fast-evolving global context. In this sense, our politicians have crafted a new role for themselves: managing transitions within that transition.