JAN SALTER FOR
The ongoing constitutional debate has yielded positive results and the parties have further threshed out their differences. After having resolved the issues of constitutional court and citizenship, the leaders have left the hardest part for last.
On one side of the negotiations are the Maoists and Madhesi parties who want a clear departure from the parliamentary system, which they say has bred political instability and corruption in the past. The NC and UML are convinced that parliamentary system with all its flaws is still better than gambling with an untested system that may breed a dictator.
So, as the deadline for the statute drafting draws closer, the parties are nervous about backtracking from positions that may give the opposition an upper hand in the debate. But they also know the other side is not going to relent either, and both sides know the perils of a void. It is against this backdrop that a new consensus is being forged.
NC negotiators realise that the Maoists will not give up their demand for a directly-elected executive president, and have agreed to it in return for a prime minister with executive powers elected by the parliament. In a departure from the French model, this is the Finnish model. But whatever model we chose, it will only be as good (or as bad) as the players. Given our immature political milieu and protracted lawless transition, any dual power centre is going to lead to a power struggle between future executives.
This is not to say we go back to the old ways of letting parliament elect an executive whose entire tenure would then be spent under the burden of its grace. The loyalty of such an executive lies with selective power brokers inside and outside the parliament, and not with the people. While it is essential to ensure that the executive is an upright individual free from any personal obligations, it is equally important to avoid power deadlocks resulting from overlapping arrangements. No matter how powerful, a parliament-elected executive will have little moral ground to exercise authority over a directly-elected president.
In an effort to seek a 'win-win' arrangement, the parties must not settle for something that will make us all losers. If they are sincere about a consensus, one side will have to take a step back. An executive, be it a president or a prime minister must be directly elected to ensure accountability.
The other office could be a parliament-elected nominal head. In case the parties agree on a directly-elected prime minister, the president can be given certain emergency powers clearly stating the circumstances under which they can be exercised. Or if they agree on a directly-elected president, a prime minister elected by the parliament can be given a stronger legislative role as a leader of the house. To limit the power of future presidents, their tenure in office can be limited to a maximum of two terms. Also, a strong impeachment mechanism can be put in place as further safeguard.
The other knot to untie is over federalism. The leaders of indigenous groups including those in the CA have taken to the streets demanding ethnic federalism. From the early days of statute drafting, it was clear that state restructuring would be the most difficult problem to resolve. Federalism based on devolution and identity has been at the core of political movements in this country over the years.
All this is being decided hush-hush behind closed doors with the clock ticking. If the parties ignore Madhesi, Dalit and Janajati groups during the final negotiations on federalism, there will be street protests instead of celebrations on 28 May. The Madhesi front has already shown willingness to openly discuss alternative proposals based on identity and sustainability. The leaders must now engage indigenous pressure groups as well.
Until now the parties have been involved in a competition for brownie points. Engaging with one of their own and coming to terms with the demands of others will test their true negotiation skills.
Military security vs social security
Military security trains people to kill other people, human security is about saving people's lives.