30 Jan-5 Feb 2015 #743

Solutions from within

A new constitution still looks iffy, but in Nepal the unexpected is also to be expected.

No, the sky did not fall on 22 January. But, as expected, the blame game this week went into high gear as top leaders tried to deflect public anger at their opponents. 

It is now accepted by even the more hardline opposition leaders that from a technical standpoint the constitution is ready to go. Of the four points of disagreement on the judiciary, electoral formulae, form of government and federalism, there is some gap remaining only in the demarcation of the five Tarai districts in eastern and western Nepal. But even here, ideas for reconciliation have been put forward: declare them union territories, adjust district borders, or leave this issue to be sorted out later. 

Rajendra Mahato, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai, it is now clear, are putting a spanner in the works for whatever reason. Narayan Kaji Shrestha of the Maoists, and Bijaya Gachhadar of the MDF-D have tried to play mediatory roles, but have been sidelined and ridiculed by their own parties for their troubles.

Something good came out of the vandalism on the floor of the CA on the night of 22 January – it was a vivid demonstration to Nepalis watching it all unfold on tv of the kind of anarchy we are up against. It was also a demonstration of the desperation of the opposition alliance and proof of how much they have been weakened. The Maoists, especially Bhattarai, have blundered by launching a coordinated political and media attack to paint Chairman Subhas Nembang as a villain. The fair-minded Nembang is so respected for his moderate stance that the move has already backfired on the Maoists.

Dahal, Bhattarai, et al know that they have no other option but to come back to negotiations. After venting their anger as a pressure tactic, they have decided not to boycott the CA and the delayed-action street stir they have announced is half-hearted. So, let’s take comfort in the fact that our leaders are still on speaking terms.

A day after Nembang began the process of passing the new constitution through a vote in the House by forming the Proposal Drafting Committee (PDC) earlier this week, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala telephoned Dahal to smoke the peace pipe. Both sides are playing political brinkmanship, trying to push the other as close to the edge as possible without falling off. The Maoist-Madhesi alliance demolished a few chairs and announced protests, and the ruling coalition led by the UML’s KP Oli is pressing for a vote not necessarily because he wants to carry through with it but as a deterrent to force a consensus.

So, what is really holding things up? It seems that all the top leaders have their own interests in the post-constitution political course. PM Koirala will get credit for delivering the new constitution, but if so, he will have to step down to let Oli have a go at PMship. Which is why Oli is a man in a hurry.

Dahal feels left out, and he wants credit for the new constitution and be rewarded with presidentship. He will block the constitution until everyone agrees to give him what he wants: that is what he means by ‘consensus’. Baburam Bhattarai and Dahal are surprisingly on the same page now because if Dahal becomes president, Bhattarai will have a stab at chairmanship of the party. Bijaya Gachhadar of the MDF-D is eyeing the Home Ministry in a post-constitution government. 

For everyone, except perhaps Oli, it looks like delaying constitution writing is better than passing it right now. They are trying to resist pressure from domestic public opinion and from the international community as long as possible until the timing is right. 

What is needed now is a credible mediator acceptable to all sides. It could be Nembang, but the Maoists have demonised him. The president could step in, but he also seems cosy enough staying on in Shital Nibas. The Europeans have squandered their influence by unnecessarily antagonising the government. 

Surprisingly, two former prime ministers waiting in the wings have by default become possible negotiators: the NC’s Sher Bahadur Deuba and the UML’s Madhav Kumar Nepal. They appear more accommodative to the opposition and are capable of bringing the Maoists back to talk.

A new constitution still looks iffy, but in Nepal the unexpected is also to be expected.

Read also:

Maoists hope hinges on NC, Om Astha Rai

Better later than never, Om Astha Rai

Maoists now target Nembang, Om Astha Rai

Opposition vandalise CA, Bikram Rai

Spanner in the works, Om Astha Rai

Sky won’t fall but that’s not the point, Damakant Jayshi