Maoist Center Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ seems to be under intense pressure to make his and his party’s position clear on the MCC Nepal Compact and act accordingly, if it needs the US grant. The visiting American delegation led by US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu has delivered a message loud and clear: Make the decision very quickly.
First, congratulations to the American administration that they have, finally, understood where the roadblock on MCC lies. For long, Americans seemed to believe in “educating” the people and thereby removing the obstacles to the passage of the Compact from Parliament. But now they have hit the right nail after many months of frustrations. Of course, that does not mean there is no need for consultations on the MCC Compact, which shall continue.
What Americans have essentially said now is nothing different from their previous messages. They have just chosen to reiterate the message one more time, but it could be the last time that they will be reiterating it. This means Nepali politicians, mainly those in the ruling coalition, have been left with little time to find the way out of the unnecessary mess they have created out of the Compact.
Though December 14—the tentative date of board meeting of MCC at Washington DC—may not be the “do or die” date for the Americans, but to Maoist Center Chair Prachanda, the message must have been delivered with a force (it was widely reported that Donald Lu served December 14 deadline to Prachanda during his meeting with the latter, the report which Lu later in the press conference denied). This may be the reason why Prachanda’s recent comments show he is changing the narrative on the MCC Compact. He says clearly that there is no question of denying the US grant, as Nepal needs it. He has not clearly stated yet that he and his party will help to get the Compact ratified by Parliament.
Evidently, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba cannot pass it without support from Prachanda. The Compact can be ratified even without the support of the Maoist MPs but Prachanda’s green signal to the Speaker of the House of Representatives is absolutely necessary for PM Deuba to move the Compact ahead in the Parliament. Therefore, under the current impasse, whether to get the Compact ratified largely depends on Prachanda, at least until now.
Prachanda knows it well and seems to be even more committed to ‘beat around the bushes’ rather than showing statesmanship on this matter. The first thing Prachanda has resorted, after meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu, is to create a layer of misinformation by trying to distinguish the Compact that was signed in 2017, with the present Compact registered for ratification in the House of Representatives.
He is deliberately obfuscating the need of the Compact ratification by blaming the previous government led by KP Oli when he says that the requirement of the Compact ratification was inserted by amendment of the Compact, but the original Compact (signed in 2017 when Maoists were also part of the government) did not have such requirement. This is evidently a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive the people at large. It further shows it is difficult to trust Prachanda until and unless he actually matches his words by his actions.
This is the time for PM Deuba to ask Prachanda to comply with the commitments given on the letter sent to the MCC office.
The requirement of the Compact ratification is based on the legal opinion, given by Nepal’s Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, which states that the presence of Article 7 of the Compact means the grant agreement needs ratification by simple majority of the House of Representatives (see the opinion from Ministry of Law). Article 7 of the MCC Compact has not been amended by any subsequent governments. It remains the same as was signed. This can be verified from the Compact Agreement registered in Parliament.
Therefore, Prachanda’s argument that the requirement of the Compact ratification was due to amendment in the Compact is not supported by any facts. It would be better if he gets his facts right, rather than trying to create another controversy in an already muddled environment. Most probably, he has taken recourse to propaganda because for him it might be easier to deal with the latter than with the ‘real and hard’ facts.
Stop fooling people
It is important to understand that unlike what Prachanda has recently claimed, it was the government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba and supported by Prachanda himself which signed an agreement in 2017 that required the Parliament’s ratification. Therefore, it is unwise for a former PM to blame the KP Oli government on MCC Compact’s ratification requirement. Prachanda can run away for a few days from the real issue of ratification by trying to stifle the debate, but he cannot do so any more. One way or the other, Americans have asked a firm and concrete answer from him.
Just prior to the visit of the US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu, the sensational revelation by PM Deuba that he and Prachanda sent a letter to the MCC office agreeing to pass it from Parliament must have come as a jolt to Prachanda and the Maoist Center. It seems PM Deuba is also frustrated with the working style of Prachanda and Prachanda’s frequent shifting of position. Though the letter was kept as a top-guarded secret for more than a month, PM Deuba thought the open and public disclosure about the letter was required to coerce Prachanda to have a consistent position on MCC. Already under pressure from PM Deuba and Nepali Congress, the American’s insistence to receive a definite ‘yes’ or ‘no’ this time from Prachanda means he is left with only few options.
This is the time for PM Deuba to ask Prachanda to comply with the commitments given on the letter sent to the MCC office. Though the letter is not yet released to the media, the media interviews by its signatories give an indication that PM and Prachanda have given a commitment to MCC to forge a national consensus on the Compact by calling an all-party meeting, by disseminating facts through the media and by employing senior journalists and editors to create a favorable coverage about the MCC’s Nepal Compact.
The Compact needs to be ratified by the winter session of Parliament and coalition partners need to do everything required to meet that goal.
So what’s the message? The Compact has to be ratified by Parliament. In that sense, although Maoist Center Chair has denied that he has written to the MCC office agreeing to pass the Compact, he does not want to be seen as someone obstructing the ratification and thus creating obstacles in the development efforts.
What should be done?
Any attempt by Maoist Center leadership to continue to use MCC as a bargaining tool in domestic politics will ultimately backfire. It will also send a wrong message to the international community that Nepal cannot be trusted, denting Nepal’s credibility badly among international participants. With MCC’s clarification through recent responses on the questions posed by the Nepal government, there is hardly any possibility of the Compact being amended at this stage.
Thus Maoist Center’s recent decision to seek amendments on the Compact before its ratification makes no sense. Though several leaders close to Prachanda have repeatedly stated that they want certain clauses to be amended, they have not been able to describe exactly and precisely which clauses they want to amend. They have not offered any alternative provisions in the last four years either.
Americans do not seem to be in the mood of giving more time to Nepal for the Compact ratification. Thus it is time for Prachanda to fulfill the promises made while signing the agreement in 2017. He should stop using the country’s foreign relations to further his own personal goals and political ambitions. The Compact needs to be ratified by the winter session of Parliament and coalition partners need to do everything required to do so.
It is time for Prachanda to choose whether he is for or against parliamentary ratification of the Compact. There are indications that PM Deuba will push the Compact—with or without Maoist Center’s support—even if he has to stand alone for it, after the General Conventions of the Nepali Congress. That may lead to new political realignments, but that is a different issue altogether.
Uttam Gaulee is Professor at Department of Advanced Studies, Leadership and Policy in Morgan State University, Maryland. He can be contacted at [email protected]