9-15 January 2015 #740

Spanner in the works

UML-Madhesi dispute adds new uncertainty to constitution negotiations
Om Astha Rai

Negotiations to reach a consensus on the disputed issues in the draft of the new constitution have gone awry with new animosity between the UML and Madhesi political parties.

On 7 January, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala held a meeting with four major political parties to iron out differences over the basis of federalism, form of governance, electoral system and model of judiciary – the issues that have apparently become the bone of contention in the new constitution writing process.

At the beginning of the meeting the Sadbhavana Party Chair Rajendra Mahato said the Front would not compromise on its main One Madhes demand. He said the Madhesi parties would not allow the NC and the UML to exclude the five Tarai districts – Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Kailali and Kanchanpur – from an autonomous Madhes province.

To this, the UML Chair KP Oli reportedly said: “If you want the entire Tarai to be part of Madhes province, why don’t you try to include Bihar and Uttar Pradesh as well?”

Oli’s remark enraged the Madhesi party leaders. Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) Chair Upendra Yadav left the room, saying it was an insult. He was followed by Mahato and Rashtriya Madhesh Samajbadi Party (RMSP) leader Sharad Singh Bhandari.

“They left so quickly, we couldn’t say anything to stop them,” UML leader Bhim Rawal told Nepali Times. Outside the Prime Minister’s residence, Mahato told journalists: “What Oli said was offensive to us, he jeopardised all our efforts to write constitution by 22 January.”

MY TAKE: UML Chair KP Oli and Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) Chair Upendra Yadav speak to journalists after the four-party meeting ended abruptly on Wednesday.

A few minutes later, Oli told the same group of journalists: “They (the Madhesi party leaders) were just looking for an excuse to run away from talks.”

Hours after the four-party meeting ended abruptly, the Madhesi parties decided that they will no longer sit for talks with the UML unless Oli apologises to them.

In the evening, cadres of Madhesi political parties burnt effigies of Oli near the Constituent Assembly (CA) building, saying the UML Chair’s remark once again demonstrated his deep-seated hatred for the whole Madhesi community.

The MJF Chair Yadav told Nepali Times that it was not the Forum’s official decision to burn Oli’s effigies. “It was just a reaction to Oli’s arrogant remarks,” he said. “Although we will not hold any talks with the UML without Oli’s apology, we will still be attending meetings with the NC and other parties.”

The new animosity between the UML and the MJF has put a spanner in the works of the last-minute negotiations to agree on some contentious issues before 22 January. It looks uncertain that the CA will meet the deadline. Oli has already made it clear that he will not apologise to Madheshi parties, meaning that there will be no reconciliation between the UML and the Madhesi parties anytime soon.

The UML-Madhesi row has emerged as the ruling parties – particularly the NC – was showing flexibility on demands put forth by the UCPN (Maoist)-led alliance. Late in the night of 6 January, the NC and the UML decided to compromise on all but the demand of ethnic identity as basis of federalism. That same night, the UCPN (M) Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal had also briefed some of his alliance members that things were moving in a positive direction.

On 8 January, a meeting of the NC, the UML and the UCPN (Maoist) decided to forward the contentious issues once again to the Constitutional Political Dialogue Consensus Committee (CPDCC). CPDCC Chair Baburam Bhattarai however said that this is not the solution.

With the UML and MJF not on speaking terms, the constitution process is almost back to square one, leaving them with only two options: either promulgate the new constitution by using the combined two-thirds strength of the NC and the UML, or extend the 22 January deadline.

Read also:

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

The end of the road, Om Astha Rai

Parties not willing- Nembang

The clock is ticking

Taskless force, Editorial

Back to square zero, Trishna Rana