Nepali Times
Stay of extension


After four postponements in four years, the political parties got together and once more tried to buy more time by extending the CA's term by another three months. But the Supreme Court's stay order on Thursday has abruptly and dramatically changed the scenario. Now, there is no alternative but to come up with a new constitution by the existing deadline of Sunday midnight.

If there is no more politicking, no more wheeling dealing, and no more short-term bargaining for power in exchange for provisions of the new constitution, it will still be possible to meet the deadline. But the party leadership will have to work night and day, fine-tuning a draft constitution along the lines of agreements already made and give it a finishing touch as they go along. The 2 May pact between the four main political forces where they agreed on compromises on the two contentious issues of state structure and form of governance lays the groundwork for the constitution,

However flawed, the 11-state model and a mixed system of governance were the best compromises the parties could reach. It is unlikely that they can come up with anything better in the next two days. It is not the best way to do it, but it could be worse. Constitutional law experts say that there is now a legal imperative to have closure on the constitution by the stipulated date. The alternative is a referendum, an immediate election, or the declaration of a state of emergency to fill the void.

There are challenges, but also opportunities now to leapfrog on the constitution. This is not to minimise the dangers of extreme identity-laced politics that has characterised the last year. There is still the danger that we will be passing a faulty constitution that will make everyone violently unhappy and create long-term structural damage to the nation's body politic.

But if mindsets don't change, having a relatively good constitution or a relatively bad constitution will make no difference at all. As we know from the previous 1992 exercise, the constitution is only as good as the people who implement them.

No matter which side of the divide you are on, it has been clear for some time now that issues like state structure and form of governance cannot be decided at a time of volatile politics. In the past months we have witnessed politicians negotiating long-term provisions in the new constitution on the basis of immediate gain in the power dynamics of government.

Early British residents posted by the East India Company in Kathmandu in the 19th century marvelled at the inability of Nepal's rulers to see what was in their own self-interest. Not much has changed. Both sides of the ethnic federalism debate are in a state of denial.

The post 1990 neo-elite ruling class refuses to see just how ethno-centric and caste-dominated the composition of the current leadership of their parties is. Why are they surprised that even moderate Janajati leaders have united across party lines to form a caucus to protest exclusion? Any attempt to point out this lopsidedness is taken as an attempt to divide up the country. And on the other side are activists who have no qualms about using identity politics and taking the country to the brink by carrying out a dangerous experiment in slicing up Nepal into ethnic bantustans.

Neither side is listening to the people. In this edition of Nepali Times we have talked to people across the country, across social strata, across ethnic and caste divides, and they all have deep misgivings about federalism by identity. The silent majority wants peace, justice and democracy, and is against stoking ethnic tensions for political gain. But in this country when was it ever about what the people want? If our current crop of leaders had half the common sense that ordinary Nepalis show, we would not be in the mess we are in today.

The brinkmanship of the past month must now yield to saner politics. The only thing we can do is to put some harm reduction measures in place: come up with a workable constitution on 27 May, work towards patching up the country's frayed social fabric, keep channels of communications open and protect open society and ethnic harmony in the coming days.

Read also:
I am Amrit Nepali, AMRIT GURUNG
From Syangja to Sydney, from Fikkal to Finland, the silent majority of Nepalis don't agree with the division of Nepal

National identity crisis, RUBEENA D SHRESTHA
At a time when we should be valuing our multiple, intersecting identities, we are being told to choose a single, overarching definition of ourselves

May or may not, ANURAG ACHARYA
There is still enough time to forge an agreement if the parties can find room for it.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)