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NEPAL CRISIS: Deuba takes over as Prime Minister: what next? Update 48.

Note No. 227           04. 06. 2004

by Dr. S. Chandresekharan

On 2nd June King Gyanendra finally took the first logical step to put on rails the constitution that was derailed in October 2002, by appointing the sacked Prime minister Deuba once again. It is now left to Deuba to pick up the pieces, get the support of other parties to the extent possible and move ahead with the singular objective of conducting the elections before April next year.

It may be recalled that the sacking of Deuba in October 2002, triggered the constitutional crisis and it is to the King’s credit that having understood the ground realities and the political impasse that have been continuing for more than 20 months, he had to swallow his pride and take the right and a welcome decision to reinstate Deuba.

Constitutional experts have wasted no time in describing Deuba’s nomination as one of appointment and not reinstatement under article 127 of the Constitution. It does not matter either, but what is important is that the King has untied the first knot in a tangled constitutional crisis.

As early as on 17th September 2003, in our update 37, we had indicated that one of the options would be to restore the status quo ante by reinstating Sher Bahadur Deuba. Again in update 44 dated 26th April, 2004, it was pointed out that one way out of the political impasse would be to reinstate Deuba as Prime minister once again to undo the constitutional problems created in dissolving the assembly, sacking of the Prime Minister and taking over the executive powers by the King.

Now the ball is in the court of the political parties:

Deuba’s problems have just begun. He has to form an all party government quickly, restore peace and initiate the process of elections within one year. A difficult task indeed for the following reasons!

* Firstly, he has to get the support of the five agitating parties. After taking over, he made the first move in calling on G.P.Koirala and requested for quick reunification with the parent party. Koirala having been outwitted by the King, did not cover himself with glory either by feebly responding that it was too late.

The five agitating political parties (FAP) were themselves to blame if none from their parties was appointed as Prime Minister.

On 30th May, the King asked the five parties to name a consensus candidate for the post of Prime Minister by 5:00 P.M. the next day. The five agitating parties had an emergency session the same night but could not come to a consensus. Differences surfaced among the parties. The UML met separately the next day and was willing to nominate their leader Madhav Nepal. The RPP also chose Pasupathi Samshher Rana. But the Nepali Congress of G.P.Koirala had to find excuses for not nominating any or allow a consensus. Their official spokesman said that the King’s offer was vague and doubtful!

Some of the political parties see the King’s move as a positive one. The most relevant and important would be the attitude of the UML. They have officially said "We have taken note of the Royal communique (Deuba’s appointment) positively as it has conceded that the people are sovereign and the executive power is exercised by the council of ministers in accordance with Article 35 of the Constitution

The crucial question is whether UML would accept posts in the cabinet. A senior representative of theirs, Jhal Nath Khanal had been camping in Delhi for the last two weeks contacting the leaders of CPI (M). We only hope that UML does not follow the lead given by the Marxists in India by supporting from outside, like having "influence without responsibility."

Both the RPP and NSP of Anandi group have indicated their willingness to join the cabinet.

* The second major problem would be the maintenance of law and order and dealing with the Maoists. The Maoists are the ones who have gained most. In keeping with the Prachanda Path of fighting in the countryside and continuing with mass mobilization for unsettling the regime, they have announced the following programme

- Call for a three-day transporter’s strike from 1st to 3rd June by the ANTUF ( All Nepal trade Union Federation), a Maoist outfit

.- Garment and carpet industry workers to be on strike from 4th 6th June by the same outfit

- Tourist operators to stop working from 7th to 9th June

- Education strike to continue indefinitely from 10th June by the ANNFSU (R) - The All Nepal Free Student’s Union- Revolutionary, another Maoist outfit.

 

Their intention is to paralyze the country.

In the country side the Maoists have continued with whole sale kidnapping and re education of students, teachers and other civilians. In one case the teachers had to undergo a ten-day camp in the jungles. See a sample of the incidents in the last few days.

- 700 teachers taken from various schools in the western region were released after giving them" revolutionary education" for a few days.

- over a hundred teachers abducted from Bardiya and Acham.

–hundreds of students and civilians were kidnapped from Dailekh, Surkhet and Gulmi. The students were given military training and the civilians were given revolutionary education.

That the Maoists were able to kidnap such large bodies of persons should be cause for concern for the security forces. Perhaps there is no semblance of government administration in many districts.

The Maoists had declared in the third CCOMPOSA meeting that their People’s war is poised for a strategic offensive. ( Refer our update 45 ). On 31st May Prachanda  retracted from this position a bit and said that his party was "currently debating the idea of taking its fight to a new strategic phase." Again on 1st June, he refuted the claims that the Maoists had embarked on a policy of "strategic offensive." His idea appears in making statements with different nuances is perhaps to keep the government guessing and to strike at the right time. A major attack on any of the security posts in Nepal could be expected.

Deuba has only two options to deal with the Maoists- one : to talk to them and persuade them to join the interim government and then participate in the elections or two: go all out to control them to the extent possible before the election process begins. Both the options are not easy.

Some analysts believe that the Maoists having gained dominance all over the country would now be prepared to participate for elections to the parliament and not to the constituent assembly, if the army could be placed under the control of the Parliament. But this may not be acceptable to the King or the Army.

Thirdly and perhaps most important- Deuba has to show that he is taking independent decisions and is not like the previous two who had to look up to the King for every move. This is required for his own credibility, the future of multiparty democracy and above all to meet the daunting tasks that await him.

What is important to note is that the Maoists have become considerably strong and have made use of the political confusion that has been prevailing in the country for the last many months. It is being said that most of the cadres of UML have gone over to the Maoists in the country side and the cadres of Nepali Congress are living under constant fear. Unless the political parties unite, the political space that is due to them may be lost forever. Instead of fighting among themselves they should go all out to support Deuba and get on with the work of establishing manageable peace in the countryside.

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