Resigning is the best thing Madhav Nepal has done since he took office. He had done little to deserve the position in the first place; his ministers were relics from the past, with little faith in the post-2006 political framework; and the government was the biggest insult to the electorate.
Madhav Nepal succeeded in keeping the Maoists out of power till 28 May, for there were other plans lined up after that (including the dissolution of the CA), which were fortunately foiled. Some may feel that the anti-Maoist coalition helped save democracy, but it has also done enormous damage to the legitimacy of the democratic system, and public perception of the political parties.
But there is no guarantee that Nepal's exit will indeed break the political stagnation. In the next few weeks, we will witness all kinds of permutations.
The ideal, though unlikely, scenario is a national unity government. Till all parties have a share in the formal state apparatus, they will have little incentive to cooperate. One could argue that even an opposition party can collaborate with ruling parties on constitutional issues, or the peace process. But the past year has shown this does not happen.
India, and its Nepali proxies, will not accept Pushpa Kamal Dahal as PM. Dahal will try to block Baburam Bhattarai, even if it means sitting in the opposition again. But the balance of power in the party has shifted and Bhattarai today is in a stronger position than he was six months ago. Let us assume, for a moment, that the Maoists agree to present him as an alternative candidate. Will the other parties, and India, accept a Maoist-led government? Or has his name been thrown in only as a card, to stoke the existing divisions within the party?
The fact that the Maoists hold on to their coercive apparatus will be held against them by the others. The Maoists will offer to bring the PLA under the Special Committee in practice (the decision was taken in principle ages ago). Will that be enough for the other parties? Today, PLA commanders are with Bhattarai, but it is likely that Dahal will try to block any movement on integration if he thinks moving on the peace process will enable Bhattarai to become PM. The official party decision to move on the peace process and constitution-writing simultaneously remains. Many Maoists genuinely believe that if they give up their army, the other parties will back out of writing a 'progressive' constitution, and want to keep the PLA until they are entirely secure.
Dahal had told Jhalanath Khanal that he would back him as PM if Khanal got Nepal to resign. But there will be dissent within the Maoists to joining such a government as junior partner to the UML, for the competition over the left space continues. Even if it happens, will the NC be ready to play second fiddle in what will be a national unity government in name but a left-dominated government in practice?
The NC itself does not seem to be in a position to lead a unity government given the clear fissures between Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel, and the upcoming convention. Even if the NC decides on a candidate, will the Maoists join such a government? Some Madhesi leaders think it is their chance to lead now, but Nepal already has a Yadav president, and a Jha vice president. Will the conservative hill establishment hand over real executive power to another Madhesi? And is there such a figure from a smaller fringe party who can win the trust of all sides?
Clearly, negotiating a unity government will be a major challenge. But the alternatives are worse. The anti-Maoists will seek to continue with the same 'democratic' coalition, and find a candidate from within the alliance to replace Madhav Nepal. The deadlock will continue. Certain factions of the UML and the Maoists are fantasising about a left unity government. This does not look achievable at the moment, and last year's game was all about getting the UML and the Maoists to keep fighting. If they do get together, it will antagonise India and the NC, and without them, there can be no consensus on either the future of the PLA or the constitution.
Whatever happens, Nepal will soon have its fifth government of the last four years. The legacy of the 1990s continues.
Romancing power, courting a constitution, MENAKA GURUSWAMY
Nepal's Nepal, PUBLISHER'S NOTE
Chhi-chhi to chichi, RABI THAPA
Freedom to market, ARTHA BEED
Is it ok to cheat in football?, PETER SINGER