Nepal’s political crisis is unlikely to end anytime soon. The political parties agree that only a ‘unity government’ could draft the new constitution and hold fresh elections to the constituent assembly. But they cannot agree on who would head such a government. The opposition parties would not accept the prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai, as the head of the unity government. But then, Mr Bhattarai’s party, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), wants the new government to be formed on its terms. One of the two major opposition parties, the Nepali Congress, has staked its claim to the prime minister’s post on the specious argument that it has not had a chance to occupy it since the last elections. It is doubtful, though, if a prime minister from one of the opposition parties is the answer to Nepal’s seemingly endless political crisis. The president, Ram Baran Yadav, may go on setting one deadline after another for the parties to evolve a consensus on the new government. But it is up to Mr Bhattarai to decide if he would put the country’s interest above his party’s.
However, what the new prime minister does is more important than which party he belongs to. The new leader has to involve all parties in drafting the new constitution. Much in Nepal’s political future may depend on whether the constitution accepts a federal structure for the State based on the ethnic identities of the people. While the Maoists have always wanted ethnicity to be the basis for a new federal structure, other parties fear it would worsen social and other divisions among the people. Similarly, the parties need to agree on how to conduct the next elections to the constituent assembly. Mr Bhattarai did not help matters by unilaterally declaring that the next polls would be held in April or May next year. He should have waited for a consensus to emerge among the parties. It is possible that he made the announcement only to put pressure on his political opponents. He should know that it would be impossible to hold the polls unless the major parties agree on the ground rules. Mr Bhattarai presides over a government that hardly functions. While he is still in office, he should set the stage for the next big change in Nepal. And the only way he can do this is by taking the other parties into confidence. The longer he delays, the more his government will lose its legitimacy.