CPN-Maoist Centre chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s third innings as Prime Minister has got off to a flying start after securing overwhelming vote of confidence in the House of Representatives. PM Prachanda’s party emerged third from the recent general elections but he dramatically mustered the support of 268 lawmakers in the 275-member House. What is more interesting is that Nepali Congress, the largest party in the parliament, also voted for Prachanda in a dramatic turn of events, which has stunned all - supporters as well as detractors of the current coalition government. Prachanda has become a powerful Prime Minister representing a ‘weak’ party.
Nonetheless, the unprecedented support that the lawmakers gave to PM Prachanda has instilled a sense of confidence into the new dispensation amidst an apprehension that the country’s hung parliament is a recipe for the new round of political instability. Now the onus is on him to translate this national consensus into forging common policy on pressing issues such as nationality, national security, foreign relations and aid, economy and development of strategic infrastructure. The ruling parties’ Common Minimum Programme also highlights these matters but the major and minor parties require forging minimum agreement on diplomatic relations and economic agenda given the country’s deepening economic crisis and ham-fisted approach to the geopolitical conflict being played out here.
Despite giving the vote of confidence to the seven-party coalition, the NC has insisted that it will play the role of effective opposition. The existing law does not let the NC to be the opposition party as it voted for the PM. Democracy requires a strong opposition to keep an eye on the activities of the government. The NC might lose its moral power to criticise the government after giving the vote of confidence to it. The NC’s non-parliamentary act has given rise to various speculations regarding the future of ruling alliance, and upcoming elections to the President, Vice President and Speaker.
NC’s volte-face appears to be strategic. Some observers argue that NC’s support to Prachanda makes him comfortable with dealing with CPN-UML and its chair KP Sharma Oli who is considered the mastermind behind the creation of this alliance. NC wants to dilute Oli’s grip on the government and ‘undue’ pressure on Prachanda when it comes to power-sharing deal with allies. The NC’s support apparently keeps open the door for the possible NC-Maoist Centre alliance in the future, which collapsed after the former broke its promise to let Prachanda lead the government first on a rotation basis.
Moreover, the NC is likely to stake its claim to the post of President in return for its backing to the Maoist Centre. When the Maoist leaders had sought the NC’s support for the vote of confidence, they had assured that ground would be created for the NC’s claim for the Office of President if it voted for Prachanda in the parliament. The President is a ceremonial position but of late the Office of President has begun to exercise powers by undermining the constitution-prescribed role. This has rendered the legislature and executive powerless on the matter of the endorsement of vital legislations.
PM Prachanda might face an ethical test if the NC seeks his support in electing its candidate for the President in the upcoming election. The NC’s vote for Prachanda has indeed sowed the seed of suspicion in the mind of Oli who is determined to gain maximum benefit for his party from the new alliance. He suspects whether the Maoist Centre and NC have entered a hidden political deal to cut the UML down to its size in case unintended conflict occurs within the current ruling alliance.
The new government granted public holiday on the birthday of unifier and builder of modern Nepal – Prithvi Narayan Shah. Although PM Prachanda decided to mark the Prithvi Jayanti on Poush 27 at the request of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, one of the allies of the coalition, the decision has earned plaudits from various sectors. This is indeed the right step in correcting the past mistake. The then government, led by late Girija Prasad Koirala, had removed the Prithvi Jayanti from the annual holiday calendar of the country under pressure from the CPN-Maoist that had just joined the peace process and mainstream politics.
During its decade-long insurgency, the Maoist party had tried to erase the glorious history of Nepal by destroying the statues of Prithvi Narayan Shah, terming him the symbol of feudalism. Now it has decided to rectify its fallacious narrative built around the role, legacy and contribution of the nation’s founding father. While restoring the Prithvi Jayanti, the coalition government should also dare to embrace Prithvi Narayan Shah’s vision of statecraft. He had called for adopting balanced foreign policy, economic nationalism, active defence, cultural and ethnic harmony as mentioned in his Dibya Updesh (divine counsel). It has offered clear guidelines to end corruption, economic dependency and foreign interference.
PM Prachanda sits on myriad challenges. History has offered him another opportunity to show his mettle in resolving the nation’s burning problems. He has pledged to strengthen public service delivery immediately after being appointed to the premiership. The new PM has prioritised fixing the economic problems, bad governance and the woes of marginalised people and conflict victims. Now he must walk the talk lest he misses the boat.
(The author is Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)