PM Koirala and rebel leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Dr Baburam Bhattarai occupied their seats which were arranged face to face. While the PM was flanked by his team members including Dr Shekhar Koirala, Home Minister KP Sitaula, and the author as PM's foreign affairs adviser, the Maoist Chairman Dahal was accompanied only by Bhattarai. The dialogue was taking place in the room adjacent to the PM's bedroom.
During his last stint as the Prime Minister, from 2006 to 2008, the health of Girija Prasad Koirala was, in his own words, “deceptive” in nature. He would say so often, on many occasions, specifically with the foreign envoys who were startled to meet him despite news about his infirm condition. He looked apparently healthier but he was not at the bottom. Koirala, naïve about the curse of pulmonary cancer already being hostile against him, was hospitalized a number of times. On one occasion where the UNMIN’s representatives were there, there were rumors in high circles about his death for which he had to indirectly appear on TV later to falsify the gossip. As a matter of fact, despite his fragile health, Koirala headed most of the negotiations between the government and the then CPN (Maoist) and also major decisions of the Seven Party Alliance in Baluwatar — the PM’s official residence — which then was a hub of political activities and international affairs of the country.
Issue of PR Electoral System
Like in the case of most of the other negotiations, an unwritten schedule was made for the negotiation on the electoral system and model of polity to be adopted by the country. The participants assembled in the morning in Baluwatar. PM Koirala and rebel leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Dr Baburam Bhattarai occupied their seats which were arranged face to face. While the PM was flanked by his team members including Dr Shekhar Koirala, Home Minister KP Sitaula, and the author as PM's foreign affairs adviser, the Maoist Chairman Dahal was accompanied only by Bhattarai. The dialogue was taking place in the room adjacent to the PM's bedroom.
After the PM opened the dialogue for negotiation, Dahal, at the outset, said “Girijababu, we want some historic works, that are in the interest of the nation, carried out through your hands.” The PM and his team did not respond to his opening statement. Instead, the PM, overlooking his soothing remarks, asked the rebels to enter into the agenda of the electoral system that would be embraced by the country. Then, the Maoist leaders, both in one voice, pleaded in favor of a 100 percent Proportional Representation (PR) electoral system. The PM was tight-lipped and just lent his ears to the arguments of the Maoist leaders. Their arguments mostly centered around theoretical perspectives such as that the PR system would enable representations of the downtrodden sections of society in parliament while the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system was a bourgeoisie form of the electoral system. But at the bottom, all members of the Prime Minister’s side knew that the Maoists, as they were unsure about their victory in the forthcoming electoral battle, were clandestinely lobbying for the PR system with other parties in the legislature as well with the request that the PR electoral system would help them to secure some more seats in the legislature. The PM, who was not in favor of the PR system, neither spoke a word in favor or against the PR system. Home Minister KP Sitaula and Dr Shekhar Koirala, however, put their point of view on the FPTP electoral system. They were in favor of an electoral system similar to the Westminster model, which was already practiced in Nepal in the past after the 1990’s political change and neighboring India also had been practicing the system successfully for decades. As a matter of fact, junior Koirala and Sitaula’s deep-rooted understanding was that the electoral fray, sans PR system, would benefit the NC ultimately as the communist forces — Maoists and UML — were poised to compete fiercely against each other in the upcoming CA elections.
But to the dismay of the rebel leaders, Prime Minister Koirala was unrevealing. When the author saw a kind of deadlock and the dialogue teams were not able to arrive at a consensus on the first agenda, he had to venture in favor of the PR system! The tactical move was not motivated only to keep the former insurgents incessantly engaged in the peace process but was also for other reasons. The author argued, amid silence, “Although the PR system of representation is somewhat different than the Westminster model, it has been successfully practiced in the democratic setups as well. For instance in Germany!" The author cited the example of Germany because he had not only worked on his post-doctoral research availing AvH Fellowship in Germany but also had written a monograph on “Political Acculturation in Germany,” which dwelt faintly also on the PR system of the Federal Republic of Germany.
It was difficult immediately to understand how the PM and others on his side took his point of view. But the Maoist leaders were seemingly in a jubilant mood. The Maoist leaders never expected that such an argument would be passed in from the side of the PM. The high-spirited Maoist Chairman Dahal once again pursued the reticent PM saying, “Girija Babu, we are not asking for something undemocratic and rejected by democratic nations.” The PM was still silent and so were three of his members. But the PM, sensing that the negotiation tempo was in very low spirit, hinted at his affirmation to the PR electoral system through the gesture by commanding all to move on to the next issue about the taxonomy of democracy.
On Parliamentary Democracy
The second agenda of negotiation on that day was about the taxonomy of the kind of democracy that the country should embrace. Now, our attention was focused on the subject which was related to the political system of the country. In other words, how the polity of the country would be introduced to the world – whether as a parliamentary democracy or something else? On this issue, the government side had one voice and argued in favor of parliamentary democracy. But, the Maoist leaders outright yet vociferously rejected the term! Later, following a long discourse, the latter agreed to accept all the features of parliamentary democracy but were not ready to accept the term Parliamentary Democracy as such. The Maoist leadership, perhaps, did so to cater to their radical cadres within the CPN-M.
Over these long years, while the PR system has been misused in favor of toadies by major political forces, democratic institutions are put in the doldrums. In this connection, it is indeed disheartening to note that the state’s three organs namely: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, which are widely considered the pillars of democracy, are beset by anomie and aberrations.
The conclusion now is that, while recalling these episodes, especially at a time when the country recently observed the auspicious occasion of the anniversary of GP Koirala, as Nepal has not only exercised the mixed PR system but also socialism-oriented inclusive democracy for years, the nation’s picture is gloomy. The country has been unable to propel itself on the path of linear progress. Over these long years, while the PR system has been misused in favor of toadies by major political forces, democratic institutions are put in the doldrums. In this connection, it is indeed disheartening to note that the state’s three organs namely: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, which are widely considered the pillars of democracy, are beset by anomie and aberrations.
The consequences are that on the one hand, the nation’s economy is in a shaky state as, according to CEIC data, Nepal had a total of $ 30.927 billion in Jul 2021 while the external debt accounted for $ 8.8 billion in December of the same year; the political forces, which had agreed to the 2015 constitution, are now coming up with other new political agendas on the other hand. GP Koirala had, despite his strong reservations, succumbed to the PR electoral system which was bound to evolve coalition politics with a divine objective of developing a culture of political unity, cooperation and politics of consensus among parties in the country. But, in reality, coalition politics has been misrepresented contrary to the vision of Koirala. The general perception about the coalition governments in the country now is awful and filthy. In such a situation of national stalemate, the primary stakeholders of the country must awaken, rise, ponder over and strive for the solution to the nation's burning challenges; otherwise, Nepal is ordained to slide down further...alas!
(The author served as the Foreign Affairs Advisor to former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. This article is an excerpt from his upcoming book titled, “An account of Nepal’s Peace Process”.)