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The consensus myth

Yubaraj Ghimire, KATHMANDU: Nepal’s President Ram Baran Yadav took a decisive step to get rid of caretaker Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai on November 23 as he asked political parties to elect a new PM through “consensus” within a week. The chances of a consensus PM are remote, given the sharp division among parties. But this is a sign of the head of state getting politically active.

Yadav took the extreme measure after Bhattarai turned down his advice to step down, owning moral, political and constitutional responsibility for his failure to hold elections on November 21 as promised. Bhattarai asserted instead that the parties must first come together on a national agenda, and then on his successor. He also said elections will now take place between April 13 and May 12, with enough indication that he would be interested to hold on to power till then.

With Bhattarai’s credibility nosediving and his legitimacy being questioned, he was increasingly becoming a liability for his Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M). But his premiership has seen the rise of his wife Hisila Yami, and other rich party leaders, which visibly became a headache for the party chief.

Bhattarai and Yami used various public platforms to generate the fear that Bhattarai’s exit will bring the monarchy back and all the achievements of the 2006 movement — secularism, federalism and the republic — will be futile. Two prominent Nepali Congress (NC) leaders, Ram Sharan Mahat and Shekhar Koirala, have often warned Maoists not to resort to such a “terror trick”. The NC anger is understandable as Maoist leaders have often called them “regressive” and anti-change.

The UCPN-M has often succeeded in mobilising other parties in favour of its main enemy, beginning with the monarchy. With enough expertise on propaganda, Maoists have projected almost every other party as “regressive”, even when they criticised the UCPN-M for not implementing the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) signed in November 2006. So far, the Maoists have extracted maximum concessions out of the CPA, but have refused to implement the provisions that go against them. For example, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as the Commission on the Disappeared have not been formed. It would have made Maoists answerable to gross human rights violation during the conflict at par with the state. Bhattarai also withdrew charges of heinous crimes against his party’s top leaders, including himself. The Maoists have also refused to return property, including land, that they had forcibly captured.

The president now faces the real test of his office’s authority. Last week, he endorsed the budget ordinance submitted by the government against his own public position that such an ordinance should be backed by political consensus. As the president came under heavy censure, the Maoists hailed his move. But less than three days later, the president “fired” PM Bhattarai.

Still, who will succeed Bhattarai and what constitutes “consensus”? What if the Maoists resort to street protests as they had threatened if the president acted “arbitrarily”? Yadav will now be at the centre of the controversy, as the politics of consensus is more of a myth than a practised reality in Nepal.
(The Indian Express)

Published Date: Sunday, November 25th, 2012 | 11:33 AM

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