On Wednesday, the leaders of the UCPN-Maoist, Nepali Congress and UML met and once again engaged in a charade that included talk of reinstatement of the Constituent Assembly, the all-important institution which met with such an ignominious end on the night of 28 May.
The campaign for reinstatement cannot be sustained from any perspective, and represents the attempt by leaders of the three parties to dictate terms to the people. Reinstatement would be an anti-democratic, non-inclusive exercise based on the diktat of party bosses, and would not represent the people of Nepal.
Messrs. Dahal, Koirala, Khanal, Deuba, Poudel and Nepal have no mandate left to take a decision on the writing of the constitution. That right was forfeited following the dissolution of the CA, after which they are lay politicians rather than members of an elected body.
Big party autocracy
The Constituent Assembly expended four years without success and exhausted its potential. It is already time for a new mandate no matter whether it is for a new CA or a parliament. The particular configuration of the departed CA was the result of the elections of April 2008, and we are coming up to September 2012. In the interim, the Maoist party has split and the Madhesi parties have disintegrated into multiple factions. The voting public’s views will have evolved in so many different directions.
Those who seek revival are engaging in impunity, believing that Nepal’s people can be manhandled at will. This action would expose the three political parties as hopelessly untrustworthy, and would enhance the growing right wing force. Revival of the CA might also re-ignite the communal tensions that brought us so close to societal disaster in May; if the debate on federalism is joined outside the arena of an election campaign, those for and against identity-based federalism may once again descend on the streets in more violent ways.
It is also impossible to imagine that a handful of leaders would go against the dictates of the Supreme Court, which mandated that the CA term could not be extended beyond May 2012. As long as the CA was alive, you could possibly argue that its sovereign members had a right to override the court and decide on a further extension or any other course. But with the CA now nothing more than ether, how is it that some politicos can take it upon themselves to take a decision defying the high court’s specific ruling?
The leaders are reported to have said on Wednesday that they would try to achieve agreement on a package, on a consensus government, on ‘the outstanding issues’ of the CA, and on the nature of upcoming elections. Clearly, the Nepali Congress and UML have failed on their insistence that the Bhattarai coalition departs before sitting down to discuss substantive matters. This is a victory for Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who hopes to revive his lost power through the CA revival, and exposes the poor leadership of NC President Sushil Koirala.
Koirala is today the picture of directionless-ness as leader of the party with the strongest democratic legacy, which should defending due process. Over the last three months, with the inability/unwillingness to name the NC’s candidate for prime minister, he has squandered the opportunity presented by PM Bhattarai’s anti-constitutional moves. Within the party, Koirala is weak against the pro-revival pressures of Ram Chandra Poudel and Sher Bahadur Deuba. One thinks his position of head of the NC parliamentary party will assure him Singha Durbar, the other harbours illusions based on assurances from the wily UCPN-M chairman.
The party bosses are once again repeating the far-fetched idea that there was agreement on “more than 80 percent of outstanding issues” in the defunct CA. Beyond the fact that the CA’s work lacked credibility because the peace process remained incomplete throughout, first the party bosses ignored the House then they hijacked the constitution-writing. Constantly fooling the public with false assurances of progress, they never set down the supposed agreements on paper, nor presented them in the Constitutional Committee. The CA members were kept in the dark even as the provision to take the constitutional draft to the people was abandoned. There were myriad areas of disagreement, but the critical issues are related to: a) definition of federalism, whether by identity or economic geography; b) separation of powers, and whether a Constitutional Court might undermine authority of the Supreme Court; c) the percentages for directly elected and proportional members in the future parliament; and, d) the system of government, whether parliamentary democracy or directly elected presidency. How can such critical issues with a bearing on the future of our democracy and nation-state be awarded to a cabal to decide and then present as fait accompli to a revived CA for rubber-stamp approval?
It is impossible for anyone to make the ‘80 percent’ claim even procedurally. The reports of the CA’s thematic committees were adopted by 50 percent vote, whereas the final passage would have required two-thirds majority. For this reason, too, the draft constitution was nowhere near ready.
Respect the people
It is already four-and-half years since the last elections, and time for the parties to get a fresh mandate, whatever the institution. The election campaign would be opportunity for the parties to push their viewpoints on the critical issues that roiled the CA, including the definition of federalism. That is one more reason for confident leaders to go to the people.
The question remains, however, as to what institution(s) the people will be voting for. Principle and practicality would suggest that there be elections for: a) local bodies including municipalities, VDCs and DDCs, and, b) a parliament (or ‘legislature parliament’ as concession to the Maoists) with a term of five years. For the first six months or year, the parliament could also work as a CA, just as the defunct CA functioned simultaneously as parliament. The actual drafting exercise could be assigned to a panel of experts, which would use the four years of CA debates as reference material. The panel’s report would be debated in the parliament/CA and adopted by two-thirds majority.
The object of the upcoming elections is what the party bosses should be discussing, rather than trying to evolve a three-party-autocracy led by Chairman Dahal. Fresh elections are the only way to respect the people, by leaders who seem to have forgotten that the latter are there.