Saturday, May 28, 2022

Political fallouts of MCC ratification

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With the parliamentary approval, Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) hiatus is over. Now, the successful implementation of MCC project squarely rests on technical and managerial capacities of the Compact authorities in Nepal.

MCC is a time-bound, dedicated infrastructure project, scheduled to complete within five years. There are no excuses for time and cost over-runs. It is already delayed by five years since the signing of the compact in September 2017.

Meanwhile, Nepali media is covering the factors leading to parliamentary approval of MCC amid street protests and opposition by some members of the ruling alliance. Many believe last hour parliamentary nod to be the result of PM Sher Bahadur Deuba’s successful manoeuvring strategy. Literally, he played one ball against the other, finally, helping to secure majority inside the parliament.

Others give due credits to second generation leaders, working behind the scene, drafting “interpretative declarations” that helped to mellow the stands of the obdurate leaders; saved MCC and the alliance from a collapse.

Diplomatic tirade between US and China, including dramatic turn of the events in a faraway country called Ukraine, must also have pushed our wishy-washy politicians to look for a quick resolution before things going out of hands. The MCC issue was gradually taking a shape of an intractable problem. It has not only created rifts between and within almost all political parties and society getting polarised into “for” and “against” camps; it is creating multiple ramifications beyond domestic boundaries.     

Besides above, there is one factor behind the ratification of MCC. It has to do with the stubborn, if not a comical stand taken by CPN (UML) President KP Sharma Oli. As reported in the media, CPN (UML) resorted to a hard bargaining tactics - demanding Speaker’s resignation or expelling 14 defecting MPs from the parliament in lieu of MCC ratification. Had he taken a softer stand, the ruling five-party alliance would have collapsed.

There were fissures between the Nepali Congress Party and the Maoist Centre and Samajwadi. Oli seems to be so determined using MCC as a bargaining chip that Deuba will ultimately come down to his knees. Inability to encash the opportunity that came knocking his doors, literally, Oli missed the bus. Hopefully, in the days to come, he would be recollecting the events.   

The spectre of Oli coming to the power was so threatening to Prachanda and MK Nepal that they decided to bow down to MCC pressure, under the garb of “interpretative declarations”.

The turn of the events has made PM Deuba a hero – a man of the match. With the successful manoeuvring of MCC, he managed to sweep his opponents within and outside his party. To a large extent, his action also restored the damaged image of Nepali Congress Party. If he can repeat the feat in the upcoming elections, he is sure to secure premiership for umpteenth times, as predicted by his astrologer.

It is time for Prachanda and MK Nepal to lick their wounds. They are neither in a position to celebrate their victory nor curse their defeat. MCC ratification is presented like a pyrrhic victory. What they can do most is to rationalize their defeat by making tall claims like preventing regression, saving the country and the constitution from an imminent disaster. Definitely, they have a tight rope to walk on and face music from their colleagues.

The repercussions of MCC will continue to be reverberating in Nepali politics for a long time to come.

All major stake-holding political parties have hurriedly organised press meetings to make claims and counter-claims on their roles in MCC. If the Nepali Congress Party thanked everybody, including CPN (UML) for lending tacit support to MCC, Prachanda claimed himself to be a mastermind behind “parliamentary declaration”. Oli and MK Nepal kept busy slinging mud onto each other. The use of derogatory language has gone to such an extent that if one has accused the other for being “ignorant and traitor” then other has accused for “mental derangement”.

The repercussions of MCC will continue to be reverberating in Nepali politics for a long time to come. Already, Jana Morcha, a smaller ultra-communist party, has decided to quit the ruling alliance, a serious split can be expected inside the Maoist camp. CPN (UML) and Samajwadi do not need more enemies as long as they do not see each other eye to eye.

There is no need to recall that, among other issues, MCC is one factor that brought a split in the Nepal Communist Party. Some conspiracy theorists link MCC with the downfall of the then Speaker KB Mahara. KP Oli is still advocating a theory that MCC is being used as a weapon to topple his government while Prachanda and MK Nepal accuse Oli using MCC as a bargaining chip to split the alliance.     

It is yet to see how China reacts to the event unfolding MCC approval. It is reported in the media that China is “closely reading the declarations”. Nepali rumour market is rife with a belief that the recent spate of anti-MCC protests was instigated by China.

It may be wishful thinking of Dr Baburam Bhattarai and Gagan Thapa to play MCC ball, that is, US ball along with the balls from China and India – to secure more development funds in future. But the problem is that beggars are not the choosers; more often they are made to be losers. It will be stupidity on the part of the political leaders, once again to assume Nepal’s strategic importance, similar to the cold war situation in 1960s, when political rivalries between China, USSR, USA and India helped Nepal to siphon development aid. Just imagine how many donors were involved from design to the completion of the East-West highway?

Definitely, the severity and ramifications of Cold War 2.0 is going to be different. There is already writing in the wall that “Nepal, like a child caught in the midst of a painful, parental divorce, is being forced to choose between China and the US”.

Published on 2 March 2022

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