No political argument perhaps can defend this act of meaningless and purposeless violence in the venue that was meant to institutionalise Nepal's democracy by writing ‘the’ new constitution.
--By Achyut Wagle
January 22, 2015 was another deadline that Nepal missed to promulgate a new constitution. Just four days before this 'magic' date, set last year by chieftains of all four major political forces of Nepal --Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, United CPN Maoist and the Madheshi Morcha -- to deliver a 'new, federal, republic' constitution for Nepal, the Constituent Assembly (CA), while in the sitting, witnessed a savage vandalism, that effectively converted Nepal's democracy to an utter sham.
The 'honourable' members of the CA belonging to the United Maoist and Madhesh-based parties played the most despicable role in this black drama in Nepal's political history. In the act that lasted for an hour in the parliament theatre at the midnight hour of 18thJanuary, a big group of CA members uprooted the chairs and hurled them to the Well of the House, broke microphones and engaged in the sort of wrestling game with the marshals, that looked like Spanish bull-fight. No political argument perhaps can defend this act of meaningless and purposeless violence in the venue that was meant to institutionalise Nepal's democracy by writing ‘the’ new constitution.
This can be construed as a calculated tactic to divert the focus of the political debate away from the failure of CA to deliver on the promised date even the preliminary draft of the promised constitution. On parallel, the so-called 30-party alliance of the opposition parties led by the UCPN Maoist also organized nationwide and regional shutdowns simultaneously, ostensibly to capitulate the ruling alliance of Nepali Congress and CPN-UML to their demand that finalising the contents for new constitution through the voting process should be avoided, and possible ratification of the same by the minimum of two-thirds of the House votes, as stipulated in the rules, be avoided. By arguing for consensus process, the opposition alliance in fact was looking for every possible pretext to block the constitution writing process as the ruling majority was unheeding to the demand for dividing Nepal into a large number (more than ten) of ethnicity-based provinces. It is not important here whether this proposition is feasible or beneficial for Nepal's better and secured future. What is important is: Is there any other viable alternative route to resolve all the contentious issues democratically if the minority vote in the House obstinately refuses to accept the voting process and its outcome? More worrisome facet of the recent incident in the House is its likelihood of setting yet another wrong precedent of using violence as a political instrument to draw one's point home, pushing the democratic process further away.
In more serious note, the crucial question, whether Nepal would at all be able to write a new constitution all by herself before degenerating into an unmanageable anarchy or failed state, continues to gnaw Nepal, as has been the case for last eight years. Signs are ominous. The reasons for frighteningly long series of failures on the part of the country's political leadership could be analysed from virtually innumerable angles. It is but natural to be so given the complexity of subject and the drafting process increasingly slipping out of the tract. Nevertheless, in all these angles, there is a surprising level of unison in identifying the basic premise of the fault lines.
The first of them is the clear division of the political forces along the 'ruling' and 'opposition' in the CA and their political postures and behaviour accordingly. This was and is against the universal norms and established practices of CA exercise. The parties forcing their respective CA members to adhere to the 'official' party diktats has totally defeated the very purpose of making the CA a gigantic 601-member and employing proportional representation method putatively to ensure the space for diversity of opinions and strands in the constitutional discourse. But, the limited freedom given to the CA members by all political parties alike has in fact hijacked the sanctity of CA purpose, ab initio.
The imposition of the pre-emptive positions, on top of their respective CA election manifesto, by each party mainly on four contentious issues— form of federalism, the form of the government, judiciary and methods of representation— was not only unnecessary but, by all implications, major impediment to expected spontaneity of the CA business. In addition to it, other required ground work like setting-up politically independent but fact-based benchmarks on key constituents, such as the would be provinces to be created through state restructuring and framework for federal structure, were never considered with their due weightings. The demographic profile and structure of potential states, resources availability, revenue sources and their financial feasibility are some of those issues on which facts and figures can speak louder than any political argument. They should, in fact, had been the bases for political consensus as well. But, the political leadership never chose to take that course. The malafide intentions are understandably apparent here as such fact-based benchmark would curtail the freedom of political top hats in exercising their discretionary authority in constitution writing process and in using this very process just as the chip for power bargain.
Another important question that arises after the January 22 failure is: Has the political leadership, of course of all major parties, learnt any lesson from this, including the past failures and is, now on, likely to exhibit a dedicated approach to finalize the constitution? The straight forward answer is a big 'NO'. There is no sense of remorse that helps course correction and sense of urgency and responsibility that should have made them more committed to deliver the constitution as soon as possible. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala's address to the nation on the next day of the big failure is more loaded with blames to the opponents. It specifically doesn't propose a solution to the on-going tug-of-war between two extreme positions on constitution writings. His nephew Shekhar Koirala, who is considered a key aide to him, on the very day wrote that the constitution is unlikely to be written without forming the Commission for State Restructuring. This is indeed what is needed to devise the fact and figure-based proposal for CA consideration. But, it comes so late that things are seemingly going out of PM Koirala's hands and he didn't think to incorporate his nephew's prescription to his national address. This reflects the utter confusion even in the core ruling camp.
Then, did January 22 pass without leaving any mark in the existing political equation of the parties? Perhaps not! It may have passed futilely on the part of constitution-making, but it seems to have paved way for new power equation between the two largest communist forces in CA, CPN-UML and UCPN Maoist. As Koirala rigidly maintains that he would not vacate the PM's chair until the new constitution is promulgated, UML President KP Oli is looking for strategies to become prime minister, the soonest possible. Both, UCPN President Pushpa Kamal Dahal and UML Chief Oli are singing the same song since January 22, 'new avenues of political consensus have emerged since.'
It was rather surprising given the fact that Dahal and Oli were, ever since the CA-II came into existence, belching fire against each other, without missing any available occasion. But after one-hour long one-to-one meet on the eve of the ominous 22nd January, both have changed the tone. 'In fact who spoilt the consensus broth was not Oli but Koirala himself', declared Dahal coming out of the mysterious meeting. Oli agreed that a new equation for consensus is emerging. This is indicative enough that both the leaders have clandestinely agreed to remove Koirala from the post. The Kathmandu political high street is abuzz that Dahal has been promised the post of the president in exchange of his support to make Oli the prime minister, ousting Koirala.
It seems to be in the interest of everybody except one, Koirala. The emerging UCPNM-UML Red Courtship understands well that Nepali Congress would not impede the process, as irresponsibly as did Dahal, even if it is thrown out of power. Oli knows that Dahal would be more than happy to get the president's position as the latter's political ship is rapidly sinking, making him it impossible to claim any such post in very near future. Therefore, he would jump for even a ceremonial position of the head of the state. The Madhesh-based parties are well known for their lust for power, which Koirala failed to take into account and take them abroad to foil Oli's hasty bid to power. The largest beneficiary of this new courtship will be Oli himself who is seen being highly impatient to become the PM, without 'waiting for too long, that might prove too late' for him, given his health condition.
Again, the agenda of writing the constitution might not be at the centre of all moves. But, once Dahal jumps to the ruling side of the aisle, and that too with a 'respectable' position, his violent tantrums are likely to be put to the rest and even the constitution writing might be an easier task. It is also not difficult to imagine that he would soften his 'irrational' stance on 'identity-based' federalism once he is in warm couch of power.
Only potential impediment might be the numbers in the CA. The required simple majority in the legislature parliament to form a government without Congress may not be a difficult task for Oli-Dahal duo. But, CA business, where two-thirds of the vote is required to ratify each provision of the new constitution, might be an uphill task if the Congress doesn't cooperate in retaliation to unceremonious ouster from the power, if at all so happens. And, Congress will not be ready to vacate the post of President as desired by the new comrades in arms -Dahal and Oli.
As such, the musical chair of the power game goes on and on again without attending the main task of writing the constitution.
The writer is former editor of Aarthik Abhiyan National Daily.