Siddhi B. Ranjitkar: Coalition Government in Nepal

Published: Wed 4 Apr 2007 01:48 PM
Coalition Government in Nepal
By Siddhi B. Ranjitkar
The seven-party alliance (SPA) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) formed a coalition government on April 01, 2007. This government was supposed to be formed in December 2006. It was delayed for about four months thanks to the interferences from the foreign powers in forming the government, and the Girija’s power of mismanaging everything. The external interferences delayed the formation of the government but could not shake the coalition of the SPA and the CPN-Maoist. That was a great gain for the Nepalese people because Nepalis would need to shed a lot of blood if these political powers could not reach a common understanding. However, we have to see how this coalition government would perform. The realization of the fact that only the coalition of all these political forces could keep away the regressive forces, would keep this coalition from breaking up for certain time to come. The coalition government has quite a number of new faces that have not tainted yet by corruption and abuse of power. We have to watch how these new ministers would perform in the very difficult political climate in Nepal
The foreign interference was very strong even when the SPA was attempting to come to an understanding with the CPN-Maoist in November 2005. Honorable American Ambassador James F. Moriarty was in New Delhi to frustrate the 12-Point Understanding reached between the SPA and the CPN-Maoist on November 22, 2005. Thereafter, efforts of the honorable envoy on foiling the coalition of the SPA and the CPN-Maoist continued until the last minute of forming the coalition government on April 01, 2007. Head of the European Parliamentary Delegation, Neena Gill visiting Nepal in the third week of March 2007 strongly advised Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala not to include the members of the CPN-Maoist in the coalition government until they improve their behavior as did Ambassador Moriarty. Prime Minister Koirala assured them that once Maoists would be in the coalition government they would be bound to improve their behavior.
The envoys of the European Countries had rushed to the residence of Girija Prasad Koirala at Maharajgunj, Kathmandu when the leaders of the SPA were holding a meeting to discuss the immediate political development, and implored them to accept the king’s offer of a Prime Ministerial position and stop the protest in April 2006. If the SPA had accepted their plea the king would have been in power still and the Maoists would have continued to fight causing bloodshed. However, Indians have helped in bringing the SPA and the CPN-Maoist together and to an end to fighting in Nepal whereas China supported the despotic king until the last moment of the departure of the king from power. Recently, China has perceivably changed its policy on Nepal. It has abandoned the king, and recognized the Maoists.
The formation of the coalition government on April 01, 2007 made clear that the foreign interferences could delay in forming the government but not stop from forming it. Prime Minister Koirala had shown a great stamina of absorbing the internal and external pressure, and worked to achieve his own goal. He had clearly stood up to whatever pressure the western powers had put on him. He achieved his goal too. For example, he kept the four key ministerial portfolios such as Prime Minister, Defense, Home and Finance despite the tremendous pressure put on him by the CPM-UML and CPN-Maoist to give one of those key ministerial positions at least one each to the CPN-UML and the CPN-Maoist. However, he stuck with his decision and kept those key portfolios for his party, and defense and Prime Minister for himself at the same time not breaking up the coalition of the SPA and the CPN-Maoist. Although the CPN-UML squabbled with the Prime Minister over the key portfolios it stopped from reaching to the point of staying out of the coalition government, and secured the prestigious position of the Foreign Minister.
The CPN-Maoist gained the most, and achieved the goal of grabbing the power at the center. They got not less important key ministerial portfolios such as information and communication, and local development in view of the forth coming election for a Constituent Assembly. The Ministry of Information and Communication would be very useful for them to use the state-run media such as TV, Radio, and newspapers in their favor during the campaign for the election. We could not say that Minister Mahara would be the Goebbles – Propaganda Minister of Hitler in 1940s but he would certainly influence the people by using the state-run media. Another the most useful ministerial portfolio in view of the planned election for a Constituent assembly is the Local Development. The previous government has allocated one million rupees to each village development area. So, Minister Dev Gurung might use that money for influencing the local people. Thus, it comes out that the Maoists are very smart in dealing with the smartest people.
Now, the question is how the current coalition government will perform. To answer this question, we need to take a look at the past performances of the main actors particularly the ministerial portfolio holders. Starting with the Prime Minister if we take a look at his past performances, his recorded performances had been less than envious. His last five terms of Prime Minister had been terribly failed. Even the latest term of his office as the Prime Minister of the SPA had been almost failure in term of managing the state affairs. He disastrously failed in taking into account that the sovereignty lies with the people. He could not go out of his circle of people influencing him. He might not be a bad person but the bad people around him pushed him to do certain things that he would not have done. His greatest mistakes were delaying in everything in general and particularly in forming the interim government even after the promulgation of the interim constitution. He had no visions of what would happen from his actions so his actions often led him to confrontations and conflicts with others and even with colleagues. In other words he could not manage the state affairs properly. So, we cannot say firmly that he would not repeat the same mistakes this time too.
Why Prime Minister Girija kept the defense portfolio for himself might be the question of concern for all Nepalis. The best answer to this question can be given by him only. We can only guess the answers. First, he must be very afraid of someone getting this portfolio might use the military might to grab power. This might be the extreme case of thinking that there was such a possibility. Second, he must have given words to King Gyanendra to keep the army under his control, and save the king from extinction. So, he was for a ceremonial king. What does ceremonial means he alone knows it. Third, he must have given words to the army personnel too that he would save them from prosecution. However, he had already turned over the report of the High-Level Probe Commission led by Rayamajhi to the Commission on Investigation into Abuse of Authority (CIAA) that has initiated questioning the Chief of Army Staff about the abuse of the state money.
Girija as the Prime Minister managed the state-run corporation extremely badly. The infamous Dhamija scandal that almost bankrupted the then-Royal Nepal Airlines (RNAC) Corporation currently Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) was a black spot on his career. He sold two brand news Boeings only to take two very old Boeings in lease causing the loss of millions of rupees if not billions to the NAC involving the middle men called Dhamijas. Under the pressure of the lobbyists, he stopped running the Kathmandu-Bhaktapur trolley bus services, and Sajha Bus services again causing losses to the state-run transport corporation.
Girija gave shelter to the corrupt former ministers such as Govinda Raj Joshi and Khumba Bahadur Khadka in the central working committee of his Nepali Congress (NC) party. These corrupt guys have tainted not only the image of Girija but also the NC and the entire community of the politicians.
Secretary to the NC, Ram Chandra Poudel is the Minister for Peace and Reconstruction, a new portfolio. He was a soft spoken person. His political lines have been the middle-of-the-road. He avoided calling for a republic and for a ceremonial king, too making room for him to go either way. His current physical feature correctly fits in the cartoon that depicts a skinny politician gaining weight after becoming a minister. He had badly failed as a Minister for Agriculture in the Girija’s previous government. He fired many experienced and able agricultural, livestock and other branches of the agricultural experts only to replace with the bogus certificate holders causing widespread discontent among the agricultural professionals serving in the government jobs.
Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat had been a Vice-chairman of National Planning Commission and a Finance Minister several times. He simply followed in the footprints of his predecessors of the dissolved Panchayat regime. He failed to bring any tangible changes in the planning process during his term of Vice-chairman of National Planning Commission even after the People’s Movement in 1990. As a Finance Minister he was a least successful minister in term of making any changes in tax and revenue administration. He did not even attempt to plug the loopholes for increasing the tax revenue and custom revenue but let continuing the shady deals at the Tax and Custom offices. He failed to take actions against the unscrupulous large business houses for bank-loan defaults. Even after the People’s Movement in April 2007, he continued to allocate the same huge amount of money his predecessor had allocated doubling the budget for the palace causing hue and cry in the Nepalese media. His budget speech in English was the worst translation of the budget speech of any previous Finance Minister.
In contrast, Minister for Home Affairs, Krishna Prasad Sitaula was the most successful minister so far Nepal has had. He made the peace process to continue despite the ups and downs. His success was in making changes in the style of working of the Home Minister. He played a vital role in bringing the Maoists with him on board a helicopter to the residence of the Prime Minister at Baluwatar, Kathmandu, on Nov. 16, 2006, and let the SPA and the CPN-Maoist signed one of the most important documents and at the same time one of the most controversial too, and thereafter, have the SPA and the CPN-Maoist signed one deal after another. He successfully led the SPA and the CPN-Maoist to form an interim government. These are not simple achievements he has made but the fact remained that he alone was not creditable for doing all these things. However, if anybody deserves a prize for peace in Nepal he might be at the top of the list of the people who deserve such a reward. As a Home Minister, he needs to face a number of challenges from different quarters in the future. He has issued directives to surrender the stray arms but the question is whether the Maoists will surrender the arms without achieving their final goal of making Nepal a republic, whether the vigilantes will also give up their arms when the palace has been intensifying the use of those arms distributed by the king’s government for killing innocent Nepalis, and whether he will be able to quell the ongoing violence in terai primarily caused by the hooligans hired by the palace people. If he manages to resolve all these problems then he is set to become a Prime Minister.
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sahana Pradhan was a Minister for Commerce and Industry in the government headed by Krishna Prasad Bhattarai in 1990. She did not bring any change in the business and industry sector during her term of office of the Minister for Commerce and Industry. Consequently, her contributions to the business and industry had been minimal. However, she faced a number of corruption charges. Rumor has it that her son-in-law made fortunes when she was a minister. As a current Foreign Minister she has to demonstrate her sincerity to represent Nepal correctly in the international arena. She is attending the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in the first week of April 2007. So far the SAARC had been a talking forum of the seven-south Asian nations. This time Afghanistan is joining in the SAARC as an eighth nation. A number of countries such as Japan, South Korea, US are taking parting in the SARRC Summit as observers. She has to show her presence in such a regional meeting.
Minister for Information and Communication, Krishna Bahadur Mahara was a former member of parliament. He had experiences in speaking in the House of Representatives before he took shelter in the CPN-Maoist. He had been a perpetual member of the peace-talk team of the CPN-Maoist. However, he had no experiences in handling a ministerial portfolio so far. He has the state-run Nepal TV, radio, newspapers in Nepali and English under his control. These tools are very useful especially during the election months. They can sometimes make white look like black and vice versa. So, it is not a surprise that the CPN-Maoist opted for such a key portfolio.
Another important portfolio in view of the upcoming election for a constituent assembly is certainly the Ministry of Local Development. Minister for Local Development, Dev Gurung might use the money allocated to each Village Development Committee for development activities that could look like of the Maoists and influence the rural people for the benefits of his party. Under his control, Minister Dev Gurung would have about 4, 000 million rupees if every Village Development Committee is to get one million rupees as stated in the budget. This amount of money is not small by any standard.
Former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s Nepali Congress-Democratic (NC-D) was visibly pushed to the backseat as it got only four ministerial portfolios – three of them are of low status in the current interim government. Recently, he has been talking less in public. When he talked he talked about the postponement of an election for the Constituent Assembly. He had been a master of postponement of elections for which he was labeled as an incompetent Prime Minister and fired by the king in the past. We do not know anything about his silence in public. If it is his strategy for a political gain then he must be waiting some drastic changes in the Nepalese politics from which he might get benefits. His parent party has been asking him to rejoin in it without any precondition. If the current interim government performs well in face of so many challenges, his parent party NC could redeem the lost reputation then he would have no choice but to rejoin in the parent party quietly or get lost in oblivion. Surely, he would not get a second position in the parent party if he rejoined. The best position he might get would be the fourth position. So, luck would not favor him again to be a Prime Minister unless some drastic political changes occur in Nepal and again his luck shines.
The success of the interim government lies on how many changes it can bring in the administration. Nepalis have been tired of the same people coming back to power again and again and following in the footprints of corrupt predecessors making a lot of money for themselves and for their political parties, and enjoy the ill-gotten gains. Nepalis might not feel the changes if the corruption and abuse of authority continue and if the perpetrators of crimes go Scott-free with impunity, and enjoy luxurious lives at the cost of all Nepalis. So, positive changes are urgent to impress the Nepalese people that they are really going to live as honorable citizens rather than the subjects of someone. There lies the success or failure of democracy.
Portfolio Allocations of the New Nepal Cabinet with Maoists in it formed on April 01, 2007
Name Portfolio
1. Girija Prasad Koirala Prime Minister and Defense Minister
2. Ram Chandra Poudel Minister for Peace and Reconstruction
3. Dr Ram Sharan Mahat Minister for Finance
4. Krishna Prasad Sitaula Minister for Home Affairs
5. Mahantha Thakur Minister for Science and Technology
6. Sahana Pradhan Minister for Foreign Affairs
7. Pradip Nepal Minister for Education and Sports
8. Chhabilal BK Minister for Agriculture and Cooperatives
9. Ram Chandra Yadav State Minister for General Administration
10. Prithvi Subba Gurung Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation
11. Mohan Singh Rathaur State Minister for Education and Sports
12. Krishna Bahadur Mahara Minister for Information and Communication
13. Dev Gurung Minister for Local Development
14. Hisila Yami Minister for Physical Planning and Works
15. Matrika Yadav Minister for Soil Conservation
16. Khadka Bahadur BK Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare
17. Narendra Bikram Nemwang Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs
18. Ramesh Lekhak State Ministers for Labor and Transport Management
19. Gyanendra Bahadur Karki State Minister for Water Resources
20 Indra Bahadur Gurung State Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs
21. Rajendra Mahato Minister for Commerce, Industry and Supply
22. Jagat Bahadur Bogati Minister for Land Reforms and Management

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