12-18 June 2015 #762

For politics’ sake

A decision on the number of provinces or forming a national unity government were hardly what 3 million earthquake survivors needed
Bidushi Dhungel

If newspaper headlines over the past week are anything to go by, Nepal is returning to politics as usual. In fact, one cannot really distinguish the coverage of the past week from those of, say, two years ago.

They all sound the same: highlighting an ‘almost-reached’ consensus among the four major forces, an ‘almost-formed’ unity government, ‘nearly-agreed’ on federal structure and how ‘contentious’ constitutional issues are being ‘hammered out’. There was news about quake victims and lost blankets, relief siphoning, too. But these were covered as if they were happening in some other country, and the leaders had a completely different agenda.

On Monday, after over seven years of squabbling the Big Four finally agreed on a number: 8. That number would have held more significance were there not 3 million quake-affected people to think about. What’s worse, the rationale for the magic number eight is a complete mystery, random even.

It has once more exposed the crude nature of power politics in Nepal. Without any agreement on boundaries and names, leaders have belittled even federalism to a tug-o-war over power and relinquished any responsibility from what is otherwise the most complex issue in the constitution-writing process. Considering the most contested aspects of the federalism agenda have been the names of provinces and their boundaries it’s no wonder that decisions on these have been left for some time in the unforeseeable future.

In particular, one has to hand it to the Maoists for their incredible ability to backtrack on and bypass what was the backbone of their political agenda, regardless of who the masterminds behind the deal may have been. Anything for a stint in power and a share of the ‘reconstruction’ pie.

As though politics wasn’t mired by enough redundancy, there is going to be yet another Commission to decide on the delineation of states. Going by past experience one can already imagine the political nightmare that will invite. There is no way to guarantee a transparent and fair process, unmarred by party influence, and thus the likelihood of agreement among the ‘experts’ who will be called upon is scant. That the names have also been left unaddressed is further evidence that the ‘quick-fix’ agreement of 8 June is the outcome of little more than political opportunism.

Contrary to headlines stating that the gateway to a new constitution drafting has finally opened, the only gate that has opened is the one which leads to a change in government — that ‘national consensus’ government which is all the buzz. Needless to say, now is really not the time to be mulling over federal models or unity governments. It would have been one thing if a unity government, for example, was really going to bring the state into urgent action to address the rehabilitation and rebuilding needs of post-quake Nepal.

But we all know that the push for a national unity government, along with agreements on federalism or any other contentious constitutional issue, are more about power hoarding and dividing up the spoils and less about getting things done together. Actually a unity government is counter-productive at this time when the need for a strong opposition which could hold the government accountable is palpable.

Were the focus on rehabilitation the number one agenda of the political parties and government, it would have got the NPC-suggested reconstruction agency up and running. After all, considering that the authority is really just made up of a bunch of people already in government with only three external experts, it could be formed and active within a day. That might actually push forward the rehabilitation process and make up for the lack of a sense of urgency among leaders to deliver on basic needs in the quake’s aftermath.

Lest the political class need reminding, a decision on number of states or a unity government certainly do not fall under the ‘basic needs’ category. Indeed the constitution has already been delayed long enough and we’d all like one really soon. But having already spent nine years to agree just on an arbitrary digit, one can’t help but feel that these closed door negotiations are not going to deliver to the people an adequate constitution at all.

However, the decision by the Constitutional Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee on Thursday to change the existing citizenship provision which requires both mother and father of an applicant to be Nepali citizens to either one is much welcome.

That said, what we are likely to get is a dozen more changes of government and ministers and several more years spent ‘hammering out’ the details of the federal structure. In the meantime, quake survivors and those without food, shelter or education can wait.


Read also:

Deconstruction before construction, Editorial

Constitution deal inked, Om Astha Rai

Was that for real, Damakant Jayshi

Political tectonics, Anurag Acharya

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