Monday, June 27, 2022

MCC imbroglio

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The excessive politicization of MCC had led us to a situation where five-party alliance and MCC are now presented as mutually exclusive options.

Last year, I wrote an op-ed for this news portal, comparing Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) as a coconut in the hands of a monkey (21 September 2021). Five months down the lane, political leaders and their cadres have made a total mess out of MCC. Things are so complicated now that it is near impossible to come out of this quagmire. More you dig into the problem, more you are sucked into it.

The problem is no more left to domestic politics. With China blaming US for “coercive diplomacy” and US blaming China for instigating anti-MCC demonstrators in Nepal, the problem has taken the issue to the vortex of geopolitics. No one is questioning on technical and management capability of Nepal to handle such a strictly time-bound programme. It is shameful to see how we wasted four and half years for a project having a life of five years. With time and cost over runs, I suppose it is near impossible to implement the project unless US substantially increases its outlay.   

Commotions of impeachment motion

The filing of impeachment motion against the Chief Justice (CJ) on 13 February caused a kind of déjà vu feeling among MCC proponents- that the parliament is, finally, poised for MCC ratification. That was supposed to take place on 16 February.

The impeachment motion was filed, as a strategic move, to woo tacit support of comrades Prachanda and MK Nepal, though they deny this to be true. Prachanda and Nepal have remained stoic opponents to MCC. They have not opposed to the idea of receiving development grants from US per se. Their opposition is that MCC cannot be accepted in present form; there are political strings attached to it, therefore require changes.    

Playing double role

Comrade Prachanda is found to be playing double role – saying one thing in public and another in private. With the leaking of the letter written to MCC authorities requesting its extension, signed by him and PM Deuba, his doublespeak is badly exposed. Instead of delving into the contents of the letter, the Maoists downplayed the issue by saying who leaked the letter and why it was leaked together and why it had to be signed by top leaders when, in fact, a junior bureaucrat could have done the job? At the end, Prachanda clarified his position saying, “It was written at that time to save the alliance government”. This must be the reason for his irritation with MCC.

A third option

The public is deeply entrenched into “for” and “against” camps of MCC. With the MCC authorities issuing deadline (28 February); and with their take-it or leave-it posturing, Nepali counterparts are put into an almost dead end situation.

Given the situation, tabling of MCC bill inside the parliament and leaving the matter to be decided by the MPs is thought to be a viable exit point. Even PM Deuba has asserted that he is ready to accept voting outcomes. This is expected to save his face. “Look, I have done my best and if they refuse my proposal what else I can do?”

Theoretically, parliament voting could be an option, but there is or was a snag: CPN (UML) has been busy disrupting the House proceedings. How do you get through their disturbances? On 16 February, that is, on the expected day of voting, it was assumed that Maoist Centre and Samajwadi will abstain from voting and Nepali Congress Party, together with the support from two other smaller parties, namely, Loktantrik Samajwadi and Janata Samajwadi, will ratify the bill through a simple majority. However, things did not turn that way.

The fiasco

Opponents decry MCC both inside and outside the parliament. The police resorted to water cannon, tear gas and lathi charge to disperse the crowd of demonstrators gathered outside the parliament. Inside the parliament, things were even more chaotic. The Maoist Party not only threatened to walk out of the coalition government, they also decided to vote against MCC if it is forcefully tabled in the House without their consent and necessary changes.

For CPN (UML), the day turned out as a victory day for celebration. Finally, they could see their nemesis, the five-party alliance, badly shaking to an end.

The bill was expected to kill two birds with one stone. One, as MCC was registered by Oli in 2019, CPN (UML) has a moral responsibility to back the bill. The most it can do is abstain from voting. Clearly, it was meant to corner Oli hitherto busy disrupting House proceedings. Two, MCC bill was also meant to tame Deuba’s opponents, both inside and outside the parliament. Out in the street, some ultra-communists and monarchists are making deafening noise against MCC. But the move backfired.

Snake, frog and scorpion

When it comes to MCC, there is a sharp division within and between all political parties. PM Deuba may be prepared to sacrifice five-party alliance for the sake of MCC but his worry runs deeper. He must be extremely cautious to deter any possible communist alliance. With the elections around the corner, he cannot repeat the same mistake he committed in 2017.

Prachanda has the bigger worries. He cannot approve MCC because he has already said no to his cadres; moreover, he cannot risk being out of the government that too during the seasons of elections. With past records on human rights violation during civil war, he cannot gamble with the US.

Madhav Kumar Nepal has his own worries. With his nemesis Oli on the prowl and the fate of his 14 MPs hanging inside the Supreme Court, political isolation means suicidal. He cannot even threaten to quit the government. That could be the reason why he is reported to be relatively flexible with MCC than Prachanda.

What about Oli? At the outset, he seems to be the clear winner. But things are not that simple within his camp. There are strong MCC opponents too. This is the single reason for him playing mute.

The three main political actors to the game, namely, Nepali Congress Party (advocating MCC as it is), Maoist Party and Samajwadi Party (opposing MCC in present form) and CPN (UML) (playing mute) are, literally, poised in a classical triangular equilibrium situation comprising a frog, a scorpion and a snake – each one is scared of the other creature lurking behind, therefore, making cautious moves.          

Inside-outside

The excessive politicization of MCC had led us to a situation where five-party alliance and MCC are now presented as mutually exclusive options. You can have either of two but not the both. But the crux of the matter is that MCC represents an external dimension to our political problem while five-party alliance represents an internal dimension. The question that looms around is: Which dimension supersedes the other?

The trading of verbal bites between US and China may push ever-quibbling political parties to a consensus. Both superpowers clearly know that they cannot risk losing Nepal. After debacle in Afghanistan and MCC failure in Sri Lanka, it will be too shameful, if not costly for US to lose good old friend like Nepal in South Asia. Similarly, China clearly knows the costs of political instability in Nepal. It is one thing to fish in the choppy waters but a different thing to stay clean. Who knows same misfortune may be waiting for BRI? How about betting on Tibet?

Published on 20 February 2022             

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