Shaky start

A roughly three-month long deadlock over government formation in Nepal has been broken at last with the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) reaching a power-sharing agreement. This seven-point agreement enabled NC chief Sushil Koirala to muster the required votes in Parliament to become Nepal’s 28th prime minister.

In turn, the CPN-UML’s Subash Chandra Nembang was elected unopposed as Speaker-cum-Chairperson of the Constituent Assembly. The filling of the two posts may not seem much of an achievement but it is indeed a big step forward given the deeply fractious nature of Nepali politics. Koirala has promised to complete by the year-end the process of writing Nepal’s Constitution. While this deadline is heartening, few will be convinced as several prime ministers before him made similar pledges, only to see one deadline after another go by unmet. What makes Koirala’s promise all the more hard to believe is the way he has conducted himself in the first few days in office. Under the power-sharing agreement, the deputy prime ministership and the home portfolio were to go to the CPN-UML. But Koirala is insisting on keeping them to himself. Thus, he is violating the agreement which may prompt a miffed CPN-UML to pull the rug from under Koirala, bringing down the government even before it can begin functioning.The NC’s apprehensions over handing over the home portfolio to the CPN-UML lie in fears that the latter will use its control over home affairs to determine the outcome of upcoming local government elections. However, there are doubts over this government’s survival till local elections as the NC and CPN-UML are at loggerheads already.

Koirala is Nepal’s seventh prime minister since it became a republic in 2008. He comes from a family that has given Nepal four prime ministers. He could emerge as the leader under whose stewardship Nepal got its first Republican Constitution but that will require him to act as a statesman rather than a mere politician. He must work with other parties, consulting them and building a consensus rather than manoeuvring and manipulating. Amidst all the political uncertainty in Nepal one thing is clear: Koirala’s stint at the helm will not be easy. Reaching out to his rivals to build bridges may be one way he can pre-empt their subversive intentions.

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