26 June - 2 July 2015 #764

Hold it right there

Because a super fast-track constitution is unacceptable, let's hold local elections
Bidushi Dhungel

After 8 June, many people, even if just for a minute, saw a glimmer of hope for a constitution in the making. Only two weeks later, the light at the end of that long dark tunnel is rapidly dimming again.

Instead, naysayers to the 16-point deal seem to be winning in this political arm-wrestling. The latest Supreme Court stay order couldn’t be more welcome for them -- proof that indeed the deal was illogical, and not to mention, unconstitutional. The Court’s foray into political waters be damned, again.

Everyone already knows that we all voted in November 2013 while the Chief Justice was the Premier of the country after the SC dissolved the CA -1 by not allowing an extension. There were a few cries over the muddling of the separation of powers, but only silence had followed the former dissolution order in May 2012 when, for a moment, it seemed a deal was imminent. But the Court thought not. And, three years later, it has happened again.

Political parties claim they will continue with the constitution-writing process regardless. But amidst criticism from certain quarters over how the 16-point agreement has dealt with the citizenship issue, relegated the responsibility of federalism, abandoned the inclusion agenda and fast-tracked the process to earn a quick buck, the SC decision certainly adds to the agreement’s already-apparent legitimacy crisis.

However, it is worth pointing out that SC stay orders in Nepal are usually taken less than seriously, especially when the Court meanders into perceived political territory. Many court orders remain unimplemented over allegations that the justices have overstepped their bounds. Maoist leader Bal Krishna Dhungel who was found guilty of killing Ujjain Kumar Shrestha in 2002 and against whom there is a SC order for life imprisonment, is the first which comes to mind. The latest Supreme Court order is less a threat to the will of the political leadership to do whatsoever it pleases and more a decision, which could further aggravate polarisation in society if left unaddressed and bypassed.

It’s obvious that those on the bench when SC orders are given matter a lot. In hyper-sensitive times, the latest decision made by a single bench of Justice Girish Chandra Lal was not going to be spared an ethnic colouring. In 2012, when CA-1 was dissolved, the decision was made by a single bench of the then-Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi.

It’s probably not pure coincidence that Regmi’s decision benefitted him and the political forces, which better represented his point of view. The same goes for Justice Lal’s decision. Quite frankly, the 16-point agreement is unacceptable to major Madhesi parties and activists whose politics is fundamentally rooted in the demand for identity-based federalism.

Even if that weren’t the case, however, one cannot discount that it is absolutely deplorable for a leadership to be incapable of addressing the difficult situations, which it has consciously put itself in. That too, by bypassing an existing constitution in order to forge the political consensus needed to write a new one.

Federalism still remains the most difficult aspect of constitution writing and that is why the leadership, which chose to take on the challenge now has no choice but to rise up to it. A super-fast-track constitution, which not only relieves the political class of its responsibility, but denies equal rights to women and is unaccountable to the people is no better than the Interim one. And we’ve already got one of those.

A more effective approach would be to call for local elections as soon as possible while taking more time for the constitution-drafting process. The urgency for local accountability is the most palpable necessity throughout Nepal, and especially in the earthquake-hit districts. It is not a ploy to forgo the federal agenda, either. It is simply a measure to jump-start grassroots development in the absence of federal and decentralised structures. Every group and volunteer who worked to distribute relief in the aftermath of the earthquake has felt the absence of local accountability.

If local elections can be held before the year is out, the constitution, federalism and all, can come after. Parties should effectively use what time the CA tenure has left to produce the kind of document most – if not all -- Nepalis will be willing to accept as the new constitution. That was what was promised. By then, it will already be time for new local elections to be held under the new federal set up.


Read also:

Needless drama, Damakant Jayshi

Interim order and interim constitution, Binita Dahal

Constitution deal inked, Om Astha Rai

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