A long with his appointment as prime minister, Surya Bahadur Thapa was invested with executive authority by King Gyanendra. This is an implicit acceptance that the cabinet of Lokendra Bahadur Chand had no such powers. The logic can then easily be extended to argue that most decisions taken by ministers in the outgoing cabinet are legally suspect.
Unless endorsed by the person with executive authority, they may be null and void. Chand's cabinet colleagues may have been competent and clean, but it appears they had no right to do what they did for over six months.
Now that the king has given Madhab Nepal what he has been asking for all along-a government with 'full executive powers'-his agitated statements sound like sour grapes. By dithering to back the campaign that parliament be restored through a political settlement, the UML lost its chance.
In the hopeless pursuit of picking the fruit without resolving the issue of the ownership of the tree first, the UML has wasted six months. When there is no parliament, the king is under no compulsion to pick Madhab over Keshab, or any other Janardan off the street for that matter.
For all his faults, at least Girija Prasad Koirala has been consistent in his demand that the people need to reassert their sovereignty. Koirala should have realised by now that more than the constitution itself, it's the intention of the ruler that really matters. To keep the authoritarian intentions of ambitious kings in check, the dispersal of state authority over a number of competing institutions of the state is the single most important issue at present.
But Koirala's political plan of action has yet to extend beyond the demand of limiting the royal 'Shree Panch' title and bringing the Royal Nepali Army under control of parliament. That's like arguing about who owns the tree without figuring out who owns the land on which it stands. Unless the constitution is reframed-either through major amendments or total rewriting-there is no way Koirala's daydreams can be realised any time soon.
The Maoists seem even more confused about their short-term goals. Pushpa Kamal Dahal is warning Nepalis to be aware of American designs in the region. Ram Bahadur Thapa is promising to turn Nepal into another Vietnam. Babruram Bhattarai is saluted smartly by the foot soldiers of the 'old regime' when he is cruising along national highways named after former Shah kings.
It is hard to figure out what the comrades want. They seem bent on scrapping the constitution without a clue about what to replace it with-just like the instant verdicts of their rural kangaroo courts. In their doctrine: if there is a dispute about ownership of the fruit, just chop down the tree.
Nepali politics is a stage where the main actors are all playing their part without any idea of their role in the drama being enacted. Members of the Thapa cabinet appear like zombies traipsing along the corridors of Singha Darbar which are haunted by the ghosts of regimes past. All this would be wildly funny if it wasn't so serious. The only way to resolve the issue of constitutional amendments is to let the peoples' representatives debate it. In any parliamentary democracy, showing one's majority on the floor of the house is the sole way of staking a lawful claim of forming a government.
Only a legislative body can give legality to a truce reached between the insurgents and the government. The question of executive power will remain unresolved as long as its rightful claimant doesn't emerge through due parliamentary process.
Had there been a more assertive Speaker than Taranath Ranabhat, parliament would have revived itself when the government failed to conduct elections for the formation of a new house within the constitutionally stipulated period of six months.
The new government spokesperson and Information and Communication Minister Kamal Thapa may not have spoken for his leader, but there is little doubt that his broad hints of reviving the house has created ripples in the cesspool of Nepali politics.
Re-activating the democratic self-cleaning process is not just an exigency any more, it is a matter of political urgency. Let Sher Bahadur Deuba make a spectacle of himself on the floor of the house. Grant Koirala his right to retreat from parliamentary politics by telling it first to his fellow lawmakers. And wish Nepal luck as he fantasises about Baluwatar.
Democracy is a lousy political system, but the absolute monarchists and peoples' republicans should realise that the alternatives are worse.