To the top and the downward slide; all in a year for Bhattarai
One year is a long time in politics. Nepal Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai who completes one year in office next week would agree.
The Jawaharlal Nehru University alumnus enjoyed overwhelming mass support even before he became PM and when he got elected to the top post in last August —-most Nepalis were ecstatic.
There was high expectation that despite differences among and within the parties, the 58-year old would deliver the delayed constitution and complete the stalled peace process.
Additional hopes of efficient administration and measures to put Nepal’s derailed economy back on track were also on his shoulders.
Bhattarai began with a bang by announcing cost-cutting measures including the popular decision to ride a locally assembled vehicle instead of imported SUVs and launching a campaign against black-marketing.
“Progress in peace and security, easy availability of essentials and action against black marketing is just a trailer. There is more to come,” he stated in his maiden address, 18 days after assuming office.
The former finance minister also promised to strive for double digit growth in economy and promote internal and external investment.
Towards that end he soon visited India and signed the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Act, which was aimed at boosting investments from the southern neighbour.
The brief visit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in January this year also ushered hopes of better ties and financial aid to boost hydro-power, airports, roads and other infrastructure.
There was progress on the peace front too. Early this year former Maoist combatants started leaving the cantonments that had been their homes since end of the civil war and their arms came under Nepal Army control.
Most former rebels left for their homes taking monetary compensations, but the issue of integrating the rest into the Nepal Army remained stuck. It hasn’t moved forward in months.
The parties also made good progress in constitution drafting by agreeing on several issues, but differences over federalism, forms of government and elections remained.
But hopes of them getting them addressed on May 27, the deadline for promulgating the constitution, failed and the Constituent Assembly got dissolved four years after its formation without completing its task.
Bhattarai who failed to bridge the trust gap among parties immediately announced fresh polls on November 22 to elect another Constituent Assembly. This is where his slide began.
Amid mud-slinging over dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, opposition parties refused to take part in polls. They demanded Bhattarai’s resignation and formation of a national unity government as pre-conditions for consensus.
In the absence of a CA, President Ram Baran Yadav termed the government as caretaker. But Bhattarai refused to accept that status or resign from his post. He wants to stay in power till elections or at least till there is consensus on who would replace him.
The road to elections is also not easy as over a dozen legal and procedural obstacles have to be removed. The Election Commission has expressed inability to hold elections on November 22 and the President has refused to endorse two election related ordinances.
Yadav’s move has pushed Bhattarai into a corner besides creating friction between him and the President. Still there is no sign of the Prime Minister’s resignation anytime soon.
The developments have made Bhattarai appear as a power-hungry politician no different from others. They have affected the Maoist party (it split in June), but it has hurt his own image more among the public who saw him as a saviour just 12 months ago.
Though there’s no guarantee that it might lead to consensus among parties on all issues including government, peace and constitution, his resignation seems to be the best way to end the present political and constitutional deadlock in Nepal.
Bhattarai himself is aware that prolonging his stay would do more harm than good to his political future. He is now waiting for an honourable way out that would cause least damage to him and his party and also prevent the present crisis from sliding further.
The blockbuster he had promised a year ago is unlikely to reach the box office, but Nepal would be happy if the trailer doesn’t continue any longer.
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