Four times Prime minister, Surya Bahadur Thapa was appointed as Prime minister again by King Gyanendra on June 4, after the political parties are said to have failed to reach a consensus on a common candidate. The King used Article 127 once again to "remove the difficulty" in the implementation of the Constitution. But in the absence of a Parliament, the latter part of the Article where it is mandatory to place such orders before the Parliament cannot be implemented.
It all started with the protest movement by the five political parties against the Lokendra Bahadur Chand’s government from May 3rd. The parties were into the third phase of the protest which included the reconvening of the dissolved assembly on May 29 at the Singha Durbar or in the alternative at the Academy Hall. It was near the Singha Durbar that Police blocked the procession and selectively baton charged resulting in serious injuries to many veteran political leaders.
This protest movement against "regression" had spread to only 20 of the seventy five districts. The participants were mainly party cadres and committed persons and their aim was to disturb the normal functioning of the government. It had not gained the expected momentum and the people in general were apathetic. However, the mock parliament and the subsequent violence on the demonstrators drew international attention. Then there was the determination of the parties to continue the struggle for a long time if need be. It was at this time that the King decided to call the leaders of the political parties together, but not before consulting the just appointed prime minister Surya Bahadur Thapa more than once.
Even the collective meeting of the political leaders could not take place earlier as the King took the stand that since there is a Prime minister (Lokendra Bahadur Chand), it is for the PM to suggest a meeting. On the other hand the political parties took the position that since the Chand government had no legitimacy, they were unwilling to meet the PM or even meet the King on his suggestion. This stand off between the King and the political parties continued for a while before the King came down from his perch and obtained Chand’s resignation. With Chand out of the way, the King could now directly call all the leaders collectively and this is what happened on May 30.
In appointing Surya Bahadur Thapa, the King played according to the script he had already made out as no consensus could ever have occurred.
Firstly, the meeting had the leaders of four of the agitating parties, the Congress of Girija Koirala, the UML of Madhav Nepal, Amik Sherchen of PFN and Narayan Man Bijukche of NWPP. Then there were two who had a vested interest in the former government of Lokendra Bahadur Chand- Pasupathi Samsher Rana of RPP of which Chand himself was a member and the former Dy. Prime minister Badri Prasad Mandal of the breakaway NSP. There was Sher Bahadur Deuba of Nepali Congress (D). While Deuba would have gone along with the four parties after some initial protest, the others would never have agreed on a consensus candidate and this is exactly what the King wanted.
Secondly, before meeting the King, the four political parties along with the Anandi faction of NSP had met and decided to recommend the name of Madhav Nepal as Prime minister. There was an earlier commitment from G.P.Koirala to Madhav Nepal that the latter will be suggested as the Prime minister in the meeting.
Thirdly, even before calling the collective meeting, the King had called Surya Bahadur Thapa and gave definite hints that the latter will be made the next prime minister. He was also given the task of talking to other leaders, particularly G.P.Koirala and Madhav Nepal to persuade them to agree to Thapa being made the PM. In any event, the impression gained was that Surya Bahadur Thapa was not successful
Fourthly, the King did not want Madhav Nepal as Prime minister for reasons best known to him. After the split in the Nepali Congress, the UML had the highest number of MPs in the dissolved Parliament and the post should have rightly gone to Madhav Nepal, its leader. It is being said that the King was afraid that Madhav Nepal may join hands with the Maoists to the detriment of monarchy and even democracy. Another reason, though totally untrue was said to be that India may not like Madhav Nepal as Prime minister. It may be recalled that Madhav Nepal during his last visit to India a few months ago was treated with all respect and was met by the Indian Prime minister. India has nothing against him.
Firstly, the King in appointing Surya Bahadur Thapa on grounds of lack of a consensus has not taken into account the conditions under which the five parties started the protest movement. In effect, the appointment of S.B.Thapa was arbitrary. In the absence of a consensus, the best course would have been for him to refer the matter to the Supreme Court for its advice instead of invoking Article 127 of the Constitution once again.
Secondly, Surya Bahadur will necessarily have to induct members of the five political parties now agitating if it has to be a representative one. The parties have already declared that Thapa’s appointment was "against the will of majority of the people." Directions have been given to party members not to accept any appointment under the new regime. The way out would be to look for defectors and this will further widen and intensify the strained relations between the King and the five political parties.
Thirdly, the Maoists have reacted along the expected lines. The change in the government leadership has been termed as a conspiracy hatched by the "old regime" to consolidate its regressive move and to push the entire nation towards confrontation. Prachanda the chairman has described the appointment as a policy of "divide and rule "instead of showing sincerity to the on going peace dialogue with them. However, there is no imminent danger of the peace talks breaking down.
Fourthly, it is important to realise that any action should be in consonance with the ongoing cease fire and peace talks. Of the two interlocutors, Narayan Singh Pun may retain the job, while Pande may have to leave after the fiasco of the 5 Kilometer restraint placed on the Army and rejected by the latter.
Lastly, as before, the Maoists have gained most in the divided polity and will make more demands. Their position will get harder and may not agree to the third round in the near future. Currently, they continue to run riot in the interior and many instances of abductions, illegal arrests and extortions are being reported.
Unlike Lokendra Bahadur Chand. Surya Bahadur Thapa is competent with vast experience in governance and is also a clever politician. The theory goes round that he has been made the Prime minister as he is the one most acceptable to India. There is no doubt that he is a friend of India but he is not there because of India.
There was an interesting news item that G.P. Koirala in one of the meeting said that "People are tired of looking at old faces and I welcome the young and energetic leaders in the party." It is hoped that he follows through with this statement by handing over leadership to the next generation that has many competent and motivated leaders.
Dr. S. Chandrasekharan is Director, the South Asian Analysis Group, New Delhi
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