DEWAN RAI¬ ¬
With two months to go before the mandate of the Constituent Assembly expires, despite major hurdles, the political parties have made progress on both the peace process and constitution. Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai spoke to Nepali Times on Monday about the challenges in the next 60 days.
Nepali Times: How has the last seven months as Prime Minister been?
Baburam Bhattarai: It has been challenging, but I am doing the best I can.
But you have come under a lot of criticism.
The criticism comes from heightened expectations. Perhaps, I have to do more to meet those expectations.
You had promised to lead the country out of the transition phase by completing the peace process in three months.
Yes, but I also said it required a national consensus which unfortunately we could not forge. With the other half of the stakeholders in the process sitting in the opposition, I cannot single handedly move ahead. I am doing my bit to gain their confidence but they also have to be equally willing to cooperate.
What about your own party members taking to the streets against you?
I admit there are serious political and ideological differences within the party right now. We are trying to talk to Baidyaji and other comrades and take them along. But this will not change the party's commitment towards peace and constitution. I appeal to all citizens and friends of Nepal not to fall for any statements made by individuals.
What about your quote in the media where you supposedly 'threatened' the country with another war if the constitution is not written?
I am really shocked about how my statements were quoted out of context, I was pointing out the potential dangers of a political vacuum. The war was not personal, it was against the system, it is unfair to demonise individuals. Remember, out of 16,000 that died, most were Maoist cadres. Does anybody question the brutality of the state?
The UML says it is impossible to complete the peace process as long as you are in power. They want you to resign.
Those who are demanding my resignation forget they were in government for almost two years before me, and not a single task of the peace process was completed. In seven months, I made sure the cantonments were emptied and today parties are at a point of no return on the peace process. So let the people be the judge of my performance.
But you have not been able to curb excesses by your own coalition partners?
I cannot make decisions based on what comes out in the media. I look into matters and wherever necessary take action. But these are official decisions and I will not make public statements in favour or against anybody.
And why was it necessary to give Rs 20 million to your chairman's son's expedition to Mt Everest?
It was not the first time the government had taken such a decision. This one became an issue because it involved a particular individual. Personally, I may agree or disagree about it, but there was widespread protest and the team decided not to take that money. Let the issue rest there.
Deadlines have come and gone, when will the integration process begin?
We are at the stage of integration process where only a few issues remain. The final work on integration will begin very soon. We are also making final preparations to form the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a commission to look into cases of disappearances. Once these two tasks are completed, the peace process will make a quantum leap.
Will the TRC and Disappearance committees be formed before 27 May?
Definitely, the integration and formation of these committees will take place simultaneously. We have almost finalised the basic structure of the commission, once it is completed we will pass the bill and the commissions will take shape. This will happen before 27 May.
It looks like the form of governance and federalism will deadlock negotiations on the constitution?
The constitution reflects the political power balance in the country. So no party is going to have a constitution of its choice. We have to find a middle ground for which every side has to compromise. On forms of governance, I think there will be a sharing of power. And on federal structure, we have to compromise on the number of federal units. I am sure parties will come to that point soon.
By mixed sharing, do you mean directly elected executive? Will that be a president or a prime minister?
I think in a country like ours we need a directly elected executive. We have made this proposal but the NC and some other parties have reservations about it. So my guess is, we may have a directly elected president with a prime minister elected by a legislature parliament. That could be a compromise.
What about the disagreements regarding ethnic federalism?
It has already been agreed in the legislature parliament that the basis of federalism would be both identity and economic viability. So these are unnecessary disputes, and there is no point in raising them.
In our previous interview with you in August last year, you said we only need a 'moment of sanity' for consensus, has the moment arrived yet?
In multiparty politics, one has to have patience to bring diverging interest groups to a common platform and that takes time. But we are moving in the right direction and a new constitution by 27 May is possible.