7-13 August 2015 #770

Bordering on brinkmanship

A constitution cannot be a pot-holed road to be hurriedly patched up. It is a highway to carry Nepalis to a prosperous future.

For a time after the 8 June breakthrough in which the four main political forces decided to push through with a draft constitution in exchange for the formation of a government of national unity to address earthquake reconstruction, it looked like the six-year deadlock on the constitution had finally ended.

Even though the impetus was short-term power, we thought the forward movement could be used to iron out the kinks as we moved along. The public consultation process, though short and plagued with shortcomings, was surprisingly effective in voicing the people’s misgivings about the draft. The top political leaders were working till late Thursday to work in the feedback into a new draft before sending it to the Constitutional Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee, a body that is as unwieldy as its acronym (CPDCC).

The Committee has its work cut out, ironically because there is little political dialogue. The leaders are, as is their wont, talking past, not with, each other because the word ‘consensus’ has become synonymous with ‘contention’. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the main disagreement is over federalism, with the NC, UCPN(M) and the MJF(D) now agreeing that perhaps they really should have demarcated the boundaries of the provinces in the draft as directed by the Interim Constitution and the Supreme Court. And, oh yes, while they are at it they also want to cut the number of agreed provinces from eight to six. What was holding up a final agreement was the fate of the five disputed districts in the eastern and western Tarai, and whether they should have parts of the Mahabharat. This would be a compromise between the demand for geographical North-South provinces and the plains-only Madhes provinces.

The UML, whose leader K P Oli is in a tearing hurry to replace Sushil Koirala as prime minister as soon as the constitution is passed, doesn’t want any obstructions now. Which is why he is opposed to including provincial demarcations in the constitution because of the endless haggling he thinks that would entail. However, his own party colleague Madhav Kumar Nepal is for delineating boundaries in the constitution. Koirala, for his part, aside from blaming typists in his secretariat for the mistakes in the draft constitution, is perfectly happy sitting snugly on in Baluwatar for as long as it takes for the  constitution to be completed.

However, Oli may have agreed to sacrifice his demand because his opposition to demarcation was going to indefinitely delay passing the constitution. But in return for an agreement he bargained and pushed for a six-province model.

The tragedy in this process all along has been that the long-term national interest of Nepal is being decided by politicians with short-term vision. Rather than being answerable to their own people, some seem more beholden to outsiders. Decisions on a new, inclusive constitution that will ensure justice, equity and prosperity through viable provinces are being decided on electoral gerrymandering and portfolios in the next government. A constitution cannot be like one of those pot-holed city roads that are hurriedly patched up, it must be a highway to take Nepalis to a prosperous future.

We are now in the final throes of writing a new constitution. It should be a document that preserves the gains of the April 2006 pro-democracy movement that ended the conflict, the Madhes Movement that articulated the grievances of the plains, and the greater consciousness of the traditionally excluded Janajatis, Dalits, women and others in this country.

The parties have now realised that, however difficult, the borders of future provinces must be included in the draft constitution. After the first CA elections the definitions of the some of the larger concepts had got distorted. For instance, democracy came to mean only republicanism, federalism and inclusiveness seen only through the narrow confines of the political demands of some Madhesi or Janajati leaders for special rights. Secularlism became a code word for conversion. Fortunately, the potentially inflammatory demands of three years ago were firmly rejected by the people in the second CA elections.

Now we have an opportunity not only to correct the discriminatory provisions in the draft on citizenship, exclusion, press freedom but also to conclude the peace process and consolidate the democratic gains of the past nine years.

Cartoon by Diwakar Chettri

Read also:

Twist in the tale, Om Astha Rai

Vox populism, Editorial

Faith in the future, Om Astha Rai

The Shameless, Foreign Hand

Let’s move on, Damakant Jayshi

Political tectonics, Anurag Acharya

Constitution deal inked

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