17-23 April 2015 #754

THE 2072 CONSTITUTION

Even for their own self-interest and self-respect, top politicians would do well to end this farce

With the Nepali new year comes new hope that there may finally be some progress on finishing the pending business of writing a new constitution. The public is fed up, and if their opinion still matters, the politicians will do something about it.

We don’t want to say that the political parties should finish writing the constitution during 2072, because they may take that to mean they have another year to do it. Nepal’s rulers must realise that a political transition cannot go on forever, and even for their own self-interest and self-respect they should now end this farce and allow the country to move ahead.

Photo: Deependra Bajracharya

That will happen when Nepal gets a democratic constitution that doesn’t exclude any citizen. Every Nepali must be guaranteed equal access and say in every state institution. It is hard to imagine who would be against that, so it’s just a disagreement of how we are going to get there.

The main agenda of the April 2006 pro-democracy movement was peace and development. After that, all main political forces also agreed that this ethnically diverse country could make most rapid progress by being a federal, secular republic. What the leaders of the main parties have failed to fathom is that their delay in writing the constitution is calling into question the institutionalisation of these agreed guiding principles.

Although for the sake of balance we tend to generalise and lump all political parties together for equal blame on the constitution delay, it is clear that the current obstruction is mainly from the Maoist-led 30 party opposition alliance. It is a blocking action for the sake of it: the losers don’t want a constitution that is not made during their watch. Their stand on ethnicity-based federalism may once have been a progressive one, but it has been roundly rejected by the public – the latest in the Baglung by-election in which what remains of the Maoist party got less than 10 per cent of the vote.

Earlier, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal had already got the message from the low turnout of his own cadre at a mass rally he called last month to protest the Supreme Court decision to reject amnesty provisions in the Truth and Reconciliation Bill. Then a three-day nationwide shutdown enforced by the 30-party alliance fizzled out humiliatingly after the first day because of public outrage.

By now the message must have got through to the Maoist hierarchy that their strategy of stoking identity politics and using threats and violence is not working. The Madhesi parties should have also got the message after the 2013 election in which a majority in the Tarai voted for non-Madhesi politicians, proving just how discredited they are. The agenda of a Madhes-only province is not going to fly because it has few takers even in the Madhes.

By now, it looks to the Maoists who waged a war to end class and caste-based discrimination, and the Madhesi parties who wanted respect and autonomy, that ethnicity-based federalism with Madhes-only provinces will not further those aims. And proof of that is the 180 degree turn they have made in the past week.

Even though Chairman Dahal was not listening to the Nepali people, he got the message loud and clear last month during his China visit, and an earful from Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyan Jaishankar in Kathmandu on 2 April. Dahal has returned to the negotiation table demanding assurances that his party will not be prosecuted for war crimes, and that his overseas assets will not be tampered with.

The NC-UML, and especially hardliner KP Oli of the UML, are also under pressure from home and abroad to be more accommodating in negotiations. There are indications that if the disagreements on power sharing, amnesty and money are resolved, the dispute over the allocation of five Tarai districts will not be a stumbling block.

So, there is a new silver lining. Let’s all hope that 2072 will be the year of the new constitution.

Read also:

Another lost decade, Editorial

Nearing the goal, Anurag Acharya

Maoists protest SC ruling

Maoists lose Baglung by-poll

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