14-20 March 2014 #698

Cart before the horse

When they should be busy drafting a constitution, honourable members wasted three weeks haggling over who should take credit for promulgating it

It has become the hallmark of political horse-trading in Nepal that the protagonists put the cart before the horse. It happens over and over again, just after the people have taken tremendous risks to reassert their trust in the democratic polity in 1990, 2006, 2008 or 2013 the honourable members of the elected House proceed to fritter it all away.

It is happening again. At a time when they should be working overtime to finish writing the constitution in eight months time, ruling party’s CA members are taking to the streets to free cronies in the guise of ‘students’ who were caught red-handed with weapons in a taxi at 3am on the streets of Kathmandu.

When they should be debating state structure, type of government, election rules, justice for wartime atrocities, and citizenship they waste three weeks in haggling over who should take credit for promulgating the new constitution. Write the damn thing first!

Because the last Constituent Assembly ran aground largely as procedural issues weren’t sorted out beforehand, this time the parties in their wisdom decided that they should first agree on the rules. Oh boy, did they underestimate their ability to find compromises.

Four months after elections, the committee set up to draft rules of the House was deadlocked and needed to have its term extended twice. The most egregious disagreement was between the NC and UML over who should formally authenticate the new constitution with the NC insisting that it is President Ram Baran Yadav’s job, while the UML wanted its very own House Chair Subhas Nembang to do it. It is hard to believe that this was such an intractable problem that it needed weeks and weeks to resolve. The committee finally decided to send the matter ‘upstairs’ for a political resolution and announced on Wednesday to allow the chair to certify the constitution, while the president will make a public announcement in this regard.

The stalemate in the rules drafting committee also concerned whether or not cross-party caucuses can be formed and if party whips should take effect during CA debates. As expected the parties were divided according to perceived advantage certain rules would give them. The disagreement over the formation of caucuses of women, Dalit or Janajati members is slightly less whimsical. Here, the NC and UML were on the same side and it was the UCPN (Maoist), Madhesi, and smaller parties who were for caucuses: not for any grand ideological reason, but because cross-party alliances would weaken the two main parties. The NC and UML were also in favour of parties being allowed to issue whips to CA members to vote along party lines. The UCPN (M), quite hypocritically, said no whips because its members vote en masse anyway. It has now been agreed that there will be provisions for neither caucuses nor whips in the House.

Needless to say, these prolonged and chronic gridlocks have once more spread disillusionment and hopelessness among the voters who showed up in large numbers last November to elect this body.

There was much hope that Sushil Koirala was a behind-the-scenes consensus builder. He is supposed to be clean and has no hidden agenda besides the protection of democracy. But three weeks after being sworn in and one foreign junket later, the man is being defied by dissidents within his own party and openly disparaged by the UML and the opposition.

After the rules committee delay, the next hurdle is the nomination of the remaining 26 members to complement the technical expertise needed in the CA to write a proper democratic constitution. Because the parties are in the habit of buying and selling CA membership, this is expected to delay things further.

It’s time the prime minister showed statesmanship, hitched the horse to the front of the cart, and started cracking the whip.  

Read also:

Another crossroad. EDITORIAL

The year of living dangerously, ANURAG ACHARYA

Put Ranjit Karna behind bars, FROM THE NEPALI PRESS

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