Catch-22 of January 22

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No constitution, not even the first draft of any form, is likely to be issued by January 22, 2015, the date promised under a sort of political consensus to promulgate a 'complete' new constitution for Federal Nepal. 
--By Achyut Wagle
Nepali People's best guess about the worst outcome on country’s constitution writing process is turning out to be true. No constitution, not even the first draft of any form, is likely to be issued by January 22, 2015, the date promised under a sort of political consensus to promulgate a 'complete' new constitution for Federal Nepal. The political parody between the ruling Nepali Congress-CPN-UML alliance and the 22(now 30) party opposition alliance headed by UCPN Maoist is not showing any end.
The deadline of January 22 is not only related as the possible date of promulgating the new constitution but strings of several other political changes are also attached to it. As per the political agreement reached a year ago, immediately after promulgating the constitution on this date, Prime Minister Shushil Koiralais supposed to vacate the post, understandably for UML Chairman K P Oli. The process of electing new President and Vice-president to the country would also begin. So on and so forth. But, as it is almost certain that no constitution is coming on this date, the politics of the nation is boiling down to 'Catch-22' situation. 
The incumbent Prime Minister Koirala is determined not to vacate the berth until the constitution is promulgated 'as promised' by the major coalition partner UML. For this reason, Oli has come-up with an idea of announcing on January 22 'some sort of draft of the constitution, pending the state restructuring and federalising agenda which could be later resolved by a specially assigned commission'.
Apparently, this proposal smells rat. There is no need to say that any constitution without addressing the most contentious issue of federalization is neither going to be 'new' nor would likely to end the protracted political transition. Therefore, Oli's proposal is not an outcome of his good intentions of delivering a new constitution on time but forcing Koirala out of his chair, putatively arguing that `a’ constitution got promulgated regardless of whether that was complete, functional or not.
The priorities of the major political forces have suddenly shifted from constitution writing to grabbing or retaining power as possibility of meeting January 22 becomes impossible. Oli is desperate to become the prime minister as soon as possible. It is the date in his calculation to rise to this position. As a clever politician, he has started to entice the other fringe parties including the Madhesis to be part of the envisaged new government. His plan is to kill two birds with one stone. If he can break the Madhesi-Maoist alliance, the political clout of the UCPN Maoist Chairman Puspa Kamal Dahal would substantially reduce provided Madhesis agree to be part of new government under him. Then, he can bat for replacing Koirala with a 'national consensus' government, which is arguably better placed to issue a new constitution, in nearer future.
Oli's moves have created some tremors in the Koirala camp of the Congress. Even before Oli could give any concrete shape of his plans, Koirala cronies were quick to announce that PM Koirala is prepared for transforming this government into that of 'national consensus' one but would not leave the post until the new constitution is promulgated.
But, the political exchanges between the ruling and the opposition alliances that are becoming increasingly acrimonious lately have been led by Oli and Dahal respectively, leaving the Congress and Koirala in the shadow amidst fresh political manoeuvrings. Rather interestingly, UML lately has made its position regarding the federalism and state restructuring more structured. In one of the public speeches, former prime minster and former Chairman of UML Jhala Nath Khanal asserted that new provinces must be stretched north-south, each touching both Terai and Himal. 'Truncating them at the middle is like cutting at the throat of the mother (read motherland),” he declared. In the same vein, Chairman Oli has also blatantly abused Dahal for promoting separatist agenda by instigating Janajatis, Madhesis and ethnic communities to blockade the constitution writing process; forwarding ‘impossible’ demands.
Dahal, for long has maintained that he and his alliance would not accept the constitution finalised by the voting process or two-thirds majority of the Constituent Assembly (CA). He alleged Oli of acting like an emperor and treating 'others' as bare subjects forcing opposition to agree on his agenda. Oli has even more strongly retorted, 'How is Dahal behaving then? He just commands the support of less than one-third of the votes in the CA and wouldn't budge even to listen to the proposal agreed by the two-thirds. Perhaps, he has dreams of acting like a king, which doesn't happen in democracy.'
 On top of it, Dahal on 22nd of December announced nation-wide protest programmes by organizing a press meet. In place of earlier 22-party alliance, he said that he now leads a 30-party alliance with pro-identity politics.  Out of these 30 parties, more than half are virtually non-existent entities, and one wonders why Dahal is so much inclined to add just the number of these truly fringe, effectively one-man parties.
Having said that, it must be noted here, all these high-pitched political diatribes are not the products of these leaders' concerns to facilitate the constitution drafting process in good faith. Oli's aggressiveness is rather linked to the fact that until the constitution is issued, his prospect of becoming the prime minister remains uncertain. Also, there is very thin chance of absolute consensus even if any length of time is spent in future, which in turn might make it inevitable to revert back to the CA for voting process. So, Oli's question is: why not go to the voting process now than later, if the ultimate outcome would be the same? This doesn’t however appear as an implausible proposition given the fact that the ruling coalition now commands more than required two-thirds of the CA votes to ratify the provisions for the new constitution.
UCPN Maoist Chairman Dahal's desperation is also directly linked to his political future that is becoming increasingly uncertain with every passing day. He is sandwiched between his own political thoughts and practical compulsions. On top, his heart and mind is not prepared to accept any constitution that has any essence of a parliamentary system. Thus, he finds mental solace in impeding the process than letting the CA deliver a 'pluralistic' constitution.  At the bottom, though he knows that 'politics of identity' is unlikely to be implemented in the form that is now emerging—provinces based on separate ethnic identity— he has no other political crutch to help stand him as a 'national' leader. His first concern is therefore not whether constitution would be delivered on time but could his political career be saved by these tantrums.
These are only a few indications of how badly the possibility of political consensus to finalise the constitution is slipping away. From any possible angle, one single conclusion that could easily be drawn is that no constitution is likely in the near future, and January 22 is by now an impossible date.
There is a sort of consensus on what cannot happen by January 22, i.e., no constitution is coming by this date. But nobody is venturing to predict exactly what the political course the country would follow next. Some of the trends however are unmistakably decipherable.  One, forging an all-encompassing political consensus on the entire content of the constitution is a wish next to impossible to be materialised. But that is in no way a worrisome feature given the political parties represented in the CA believe and follow the universally accepted democratic practices to decide on all the differing stances. The problem is, the smaller parties are not ready to agree on the House arithmetic as they have incentive to maintain rigid stand than to 'surrender' to democratic process. This is indeed more dangerous situation than non-transpiration of the political consensus.
Two, the second CA is too in no way proving itself more effective and dedicated to the assigned cause of writing new constitution. The CA members despite being large in numbers are unable to play role beyond the partisan interests embraced by their respective party leaders. To reiterate, CA Chairman Subash Nembang as in the first CA has failed completely to streamline and systematize the constitution writing process, by instilling insights from the past experience. He perhaps has not recognized the importance and duty of his position as the CA Chairman. Though he has started being active toward late December, the outcome of his last ditch efforts is yet to be seen.
Third, UML's aggressiveness and highly rational stand, on state restructuring in particular, might help to land the politics on the right ground. Only fear is that, the party has the record of changing stands overnight, sometimes in 180degree angle. Even if the Congress and UML press for ratifying the constitution by two-thirds majority in CA and make resolute move in that direction, the Dahal-led force is unlikely to capitulate to its outcome. It is not difficult to surmise now that there are many seen and unseen players that want Dahal to be uncompromising on the issues of identity, secularism and on creating the largest possible number of provinces.
Fourth, the country has suffered immeasurably in absence of functional civil society and a bold as well as independent media. This lacuna has led to a situation where sense of right and wrong on the postures adopted by different political parties is getting blurred. Which position, the one taken by Oli or Dahal for example, is better in view of democracy and in the long-term interest of the people? No objective analysis is available based on informed knowledge. Micro-scrutiny is completely absent and superficial, sweeping comments and reports 'like leaders are not being responsible' or 'they should be flexible' are making umpteen rounds. We have failed to say only those who have irrational stand should change and the one with right kind of democratic stand should maintain his position regardless of all odds. 
Above all, the level of assertiveness of the government is almost zero. This has further complicated the situation. Prime Minister Koirala is neither able to come-up with any creative idea to resolve the crisis nor is he taking any position that can prove instrumental to break the impasse. We are once again doomed to face another bout of politically sponsored anarchy due to unabated erosion of credibility of the national political institutions.
The writer is former editor of Aarthik Abhiyan National Daily.

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