Sunday, February 26, 2017

Uniting For the Next Split? Let’s Hope Not

Emerging from its much-publicized unity convention, the right-of-center Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) is seeking to project the image of your normal political party. And the Big Three political parties have contributed much to the normalization process.
From the balminess and banter the Nepali Congress, Unified Marxist Leninist and Maoist-Center stacked on convention inauguration ceremony, you could easily forget that the man at the center was also at the core of the regime those parties joined hands to overthrow in the Spring of 2006.
To be sure, Kamal Thapa has long since emerged out of the persona of home minister of the royal regime to position his erstwhile party as the fourth largest in the assembly elected in 2013. The RPP Nepal did not win a single seat in the first past the post category.
Yet its rivals quickly recognized the slippery slope that would set in once you started denigrating the RPPN’s exclusivity with ‘proportional representatives’. As the leader of the new party, Thapa can now claim three directly elected representatives in his contingent.
Thapa failed in his effort to foster unanimity. Prakash Chandra Lohani of the republican faction of the former panchas broke an informal agreement to announce a challenge to Thapa. Lohani then disappointed a lot of us by withdrawing in favor of a proxy, Pradeep Bikram Rana.
It wasn’t difficult to sympathize with Lohani. As someone honed through the tumultuous graduate-constituency process of the partyless polity, critic of the ‘dyarchy’ in the early 1970s, and campaigner for the restoration of multiparty democracy, Lohani went on to join the relatively hardline Panchayat faction in the post-referendum 1980s. For much of this period, he was projected as a future prime minister.
His challenge to Thapa had a strong case. This was supposed to be unification of two parties, not a takeover of one by the other. By withdrawing, Lohani allowed Thapa to crushed a true competitor in a real contest, while Rana established his credentials at Lohani’s expense. An unfazed Thapa went on to nominate key party members with a swiftness that set a record in the annals of internal party organization in Nepal.
The united party advocates the installation of a ceremonial monarchy and the restoration of Hindu statehood. On the former, greater clarity would be required in the weeks and months ahead. Hindu statehood, however, seems to be the defining issue. In a sop to post-April 2006 realities, the RPP has accepted federalism, albeit if a little diffidently.
In its latest iteration as a responsible stakeholder, the RPP has warned the government not to push the Constitution Amendment Bill in its present form, saying such a move would prove counterproductive. Yet the party said it would not offer an amendment proposal. A cop out? Maybe. It’s looks more like the RPP is holding its cards close to the chest, considering the likely fallout from any precipitous move from any side.
The RPP can no longer be characterized solely as an amalgam of diehard royalists. Conservative Hindus with a republican bent also populate the organization, although that trait seems rooted more in expediency than in ideology.
The RPP probably has the political smarts to continue to prosper. But can it overcome its divisive history. The men and women in that part of the political spectrum tend to do well when they are united. But political power – or even the prospect of it – instantly divides them, and with an intensity far greater than what tends to split other Nepali parties.
Could that be why the leaders of the Big Three were having such a good time at the inauguration ceremony?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Gaudy Games In The Premier League

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been assuring us to the point of utter boredom that elections will be held at any cost to safeguard the political achievements of the past decade. The opposition Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) likes hearing that, but only when Dahal shuts up about amending the constitution first.
Dahal’s partial allies in the Federal Socialist Alliance (FSA) want the prime minister to go the other way around. The alliance is pressing him to first respect the identity and space of Madhesis in the setting of provincial boundaries.
Now, Dahal knows that he gave that very assurance in exchange for the alliance’s support in building the new government. Yet every time he seeks to placate the FSA by talking up the putative constitutional amendment, the UML turns tart.
The opposition party warns that any change of boundaries on the basis of ethnicity would be detrimental to social amity and national sovereignty. And when the UML does that, Dahal returns to telling us that elections will be held at all costs. The prime minister’s persistence vis-à-vis polls makes you want to forget that he heads what is still officially a Maoist party.
The Election Commissioners have long been pushing the government to announce the dates before anything else. If the premier did that without redrawing the provincial boundaries first, the FSA warns it would begin its oft-threatened protests.
Dahal is lucky that the Nepali Congress, the junior partner in the government, is torn between the amendment- and election-first proponents. As a result, relations between Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba – the presumptive next prime minister – and Dahal are said to have soured.
Seeking his pound of flesh nevertheless, Deuba prodded Dahal the other day to convene an early-morning cabinet meeting to appoint Jay Bahadur Chand as Inspector-General of Police. Before Deuba could properly take his victory lap, the Supreme Court put Chand’s appointment on hold. Deuba, for his part, issued a formal statement disclaiming any role in the Chand affair.
Dahal felt he could comfortably resume playing off the FSA and UML against each other. But that gambit, too, appears to have run its course. Lately, the prime minister has turned to another predecessor, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, for help in untying the political knot.
Bhattarai, a one-time Dahal lieutenant who ditched the party after the Constituent Assembly promulgated the new constitution to form his own outfit, seemed concerned enough. He has taken to blaming former prime minister and UML chairman K.P. Oli for loosening his lips so lax as to embolden separatists like C.K. Raut. (Of the other two former premiers in the UML, Madhav Kumar Nepal wants Dahal to step down immediately for incompetence, while Jhal Nath Khanal accuses our head of government of being India’s puppet.)
Now we’re supposed to believe that Dahal and Bhattarai would join hands to save the nation when they couldn’t even feign unity a little bit longer to save their party. Oh these gaudy premier games!