20-26 March 2015 #750

Delete 'interim'

The best solution for now would be to adopt the basic document of the Interim Constitution 2007 and add the agreed bits from the new draft.

It has been more than a month since the Constituent Assembly has been suspended to give time for the top leadership of the main parties to forge an agreement.

Just that fact alone should prove where the real power lies in this country. It doesn’t lie with the people, but with a bunch of double-speaking men who go round and round in circles. The CA has been relegated to a rubber-stamp body that is there only to approve what this exclusive coterie decides. The trouble is that they haven’t been able to agree on anything.

There are three main players here. The ruling NC-UML coalition, the UCPN(M) led alliance with Madhesi and other smaller parties, and the Hindu-right RPP-N, which is gaining strength because of public disillusionment, an anti-secular wave, and geopolitical factors.

The operational strategy of both NC-UML and Maoist-Madhesi at the moment can be best described as ‘talk loudly and carry a big stick’. The NC-UML has threatened to take federalism to a vote in the CA unless the opposition does what it says. And the Maoist-Madhesi front is warning of another round of nationwide strikes early next month unless the government does what it says. Calling this a stalemate would be an understatement. It is hopelessly stuck.

The real reason for the sudden failure of negotiations last week was the Supreme Court decision rejecting clauses in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act that would grant sweeping amnesty for wartime excesses. As Binita Dahal writes on page 15, this has given the ruling parties, state security forces and the Maoists sleepless nights – leading to talks on re-merging the UCPN(M) and the CPN-M, and the announcement of street protests. Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal is also livid that a tranche of funds being ferreted into the country from the Virgin Islands has been blocked by the Rastra Bank.

Despite this there has been one unanimous understanding: to try to pass ‘a constitution’ on 29 May, which happens to be Republic Day. We’ll believe that when we see it, but it does offer a glimmer of hope that some politicians are now so embarrassed by repeatedly letting the people down that they want to pass a constitution by hook or by crook, even if it means postponing the divisive issue of federalism.

The best alternative plan we have heard is the one of adopting the basic document of the Interim Constitution 2007, adding the agreed bits of the new draft on form of government, judiciary and election procedures, and promulgate that. To make this option more acceptable to the people, it could coincide with the announcement of a date for local elections.

For nearly two decades now, the country hasn’t had elections for village, district and municipal councils. The result is there for all to see: the erosion of accountability at the local level, a corruption pandemic, extortion and blockage of infrastructure projects by goons enjoying political protection, and last but not least, the mountains of garbage on Kathmandu’s streets. 

Clause 38.1 of the Interim Constitution already has inbuilt provisions in its preamble to address discrimination on the basis of class, ethnicity, geography, culture, religion, or gender, and restructure the state along principles of democracy and inclusion. Frankly, it is not clear how federalism is going to be the cure-all to all these ills. In fact, the misgivings are now shared by some of the top leaders across the political spectrum and sections of the international community including our neighbours to the north and south.

As Damakant Jayshi argues on page 4, the Interim Constitution is actually more progressive than the new draft with regard to issues like granting citizenship in the name of the mother. Adopting an amended version of the Interim Constitution on 29 May with announcement of local elections would be least disruptive and most forward-looking way to end this debilitating deadlock, and allow the country to move ahead to catch up with development, investment and economic growth. Let’s face it: successive public opinion polls have shown that jobs and services are what most Nepalis are interested in, not identity, federalism, secularism, or even a new constitution.

Read also:

A temporary constitution, Damakant Jayshi

Justice in transition, Binita Dahal

Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey 2015, Ayesha Shakya

Mixed Signals, Editorial

Let's get back to work

Back to square zero, Trishna Rana