By Nilamber Acharya, Sushil Pyakurel, Kanak Mani Dixit
Translated from Kantipur daily, 21 June, Thursday
A new constitution should have been promulgated on 27 May, but that did not happen. Instead, the people were led into a deep and intractable constitutional and political crisis. The Supreme Court had declared six months ago, on 9 Mangsir 2068, that the lifespan of the Constituent Assembly would automatically come to an end on 27 May 2012. It had directed that alternative means be sought if it was not possible to complete the job of constitution-writing during that period.
Had the government meant to follow the directives of the Supreme Court, it should have worked to bring appropriate amendments to the Interim Constitution through the Legislature-Parliament by 27 May. But it chose not to do so, and hence the crisis we are enmeshed in. Certainly, the government had seen the possibility of deadlock in the constitution-writing, which was why it had sought the extension of the House by three months (which was not granted by the Supreme Court).
The Aroma of Prejudgement
Today, we are outside the constitutional track, in a situation not envisaged by the Interim Constitution. That document does not imagine a situation without a legislature. The Interim Constitution could have been amended before 27 May, but that was not done. Hence, today we do not even have the Legislature-Parliament to define the road to be taken. The prime minister himself exists outside the constitution, and there is no parliamentary restraint on the caretaker government.
The present constitution directs that the old parliament be kept alive as the country goes into elections. Based on past experience, constitutionally and practically we have abandoned the system of where the old parliament is terminated after elections are announced. Sadly, we are now witness to a brazen attempt to organise elections in the absence of a legislature, a negation of due process under the Interim Constitution.
To understand why the Bhattarai-Gachhedar coalition government rushed to do away with the legislature, it is enough to witness the internal crisis in the party of both leaders. There was prior indication of the self-seeking and undemocratic nature of this government in the manner in which it cancelled the celebration of Loktantra Diwas (Democracy Day) this year.
A government that is arbitrary, unaccountable and unrestrained must not be encouraged nor rewarded. Such a government must be stopped in its track, and made to step down. It must be punished.
The Interim Constitution may not provide an exact roadmap out of the current crisis, but it does indicate the direction to take. The preamble states that the Interim Constitution was prepared through political consensus and that democracy lies at the heart of its value system. Article 43 says clearly, The Government of Nepal shall function according to the values of the Joint Peoples Movement, political consensus and the culture of collaboration.
It is democratic commitment and political consensus as demanded by the Interim Constitution, then, that must guide us out of the present quagmire. At a time when the constitutional process has been shaken and upturned, the practice of politics should be of the kind that will provide security to the people and uphold the national pride.
That collaborative journey out of the present crisis should start with the organisation of formal negotiations for the formation of a government of democratic consensus. There is no time to lose.
The road to take
In planning the formation of the new government, we must learn from the experiences of the recent past. Why was it not possible to form a government of democratic consensus after the April 2008 elections, and why were the several coalition governments unable to deliver?
The answer is to be seen in the party leaders who sought to exercise power without accountability. These are the same leaders who were unwilling to join the important committees of the Constituent Assembly while getting involved in all the vital decisions. This attitude served to weaken both elected and constitutional bodies.
It was this undemocratic behaviour of the topmost party leaders which affected the work of the coalition governments since 2008. The ministers themselves often complained of lack of cooperation from the party leadership. Such a remote control tendency must be exposed and abandoned, so that leaders are forced to be accountable for the decisions they take.
Over the period of political transition, the process of government formation remained hostage to the desire of the senior leaders to become prime minister. Such leaders failed to regard the government as a potent entity to promote national reconciliation. The size of the cabinets once reaching nearly 50 unfortunately did nothing for political consensus, good governance or development.
The entry point to national consensus is a government of democratic unity, and this is the task that is most urgent now. How is such a government to be formed? When our leaders speak of the successful instances of peace building and constitution writing, they refer to South Africa and other countries. However, they fail to consider the fact that in those countries the senior-most leaders agreed to be accountable in office.
In South Africas transitional government led by Nelson Mandela, former president F W de Klerk agreed to serve as vice president. Mandelas bitter opponent, Chief Buthelezi of the Inkatha Freedom Party, served as the home minister. We find many such examples of cohabitation of rivals in countries where the peace process has concluded successfully.
Call to the top leaders
The political players and the citizenry at large must understand that the achievements of the Peoples Movement of 2006 are in the process of being overturned. Vigilance is the need of the hour. The precarious situation demands a national unity government with the participation of the top leaders of all the main political parties and forces. In the process of putting together such a government, there should also be agreement on its main responsibilities and the process to fulfil those responsibilities. The talks on the participation of top leadership will also lead to the procedure for appointment of the prime minister.
Under the existing circumstance of multiple and cross-cutting challenges, only a unity government of the topmost leaders will have the possibility of leading our society out of the present crisis.
We call upon the topmost leaders of the political parties to join the future government as accountable members of the cabinet. Without such membership in government, no meetings to seek consensus will be lead to results, be they orgnaised in resorts, hotels or overseas. Without the central matter of accountability, there will no implementation even where there is consensus.
We need not only political agreement, but their implementation. Under existing circumstances, this cannot happen without the cooperation between the topmost leaders who also serve in the government. These leaders should therefore abandon their individual egos and arrogance, and participate in the future government if they want to give strength back to the nation.
The cooperation among the top leadership is also vital to erase the sense of hopelessness and betrayal that holds the public in its grip. The teamwork will energise the citizenry and bring back hope.