29 Aug - 5 Sept 2014 #722

Missing another deadline

Pushpa Kamal Dahal is threatening to delay the constitution if he is not allowed to head a parallel government
Damakant Jayshi
Five months to go. That’s the self-imposed deadline the parties have set this week to deliver the new constitution. There are other sub-deadlines before 22 January 2015. The parties have to reach an agreement on the disagreements by the first week of September, and the first draft of the  statute is to be readied by mid- October to get the people’s feedback.

The political parties were serial violators of the earlier timetable before the last Constituent Assembly (CA). By the looks of it, CA2 is on a similar trajectory. Except for settling some minor issues, the Assembly is yet to find a breakthrough on issues that ultimately led to the failure of the last one: state restructuring, system of governance, judiciary and electoral system.

The biggest hurdle was, and still is, state restructuring aka federalism. The parties have stuck to their positions. The NC and the CPN-UML want no more than five or seven provinces at the most, the UCPN (Maoist) want to go for double that number. The Madhes-based parties are batting for a single east-to-west Madhes Pradesh in the Tarai, but may settle for at the most, two.

Baburam Bhattarai, who heads the Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee – the all-important body in the second assembly – has now suggested going back to the 15 May, 2012 agreement between the NC, the UML, the UCPN (M) and the former Madhesi Morcha. That agreement had proposed 11 multi-identity states, including five in the Tarai and left the naming of the provinces to state legislatures. It had also proposed a mixed model of governance: a directly elected president and a House-elected prime minister as well as a mixed electoral system.

Bhattarai would like to forget that it was he, as prime minister, and his party with its Madhesi coalition partner, who opposed that very same proposal. Twelve days later, the CA was dissolved by Bhattarai after rejecting every single alternative proposed by the NC and the UML. That ensured he continued to be the prime minister and the prospect of Mohan Baidya-led CPN-Maoist supporting an NC-UML no-confidence motion against him never materialised. Had that agreement been honoured, we would have had a constitution by now and a jumbo 11-state federal republic.

Why this change of heart? Bhattarai, as is his wont, does not care to explain. His running feud with party Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, may have forced him to now say that he is in favour of a deal that he had so vehemently opposed and killed. Dahal, out of power, and likely to be out of any leadership role that oversees far-reaching agreements or breakthroughs, would gladly torpedo any deal unless he has a role in it.

Given his impressive record for sabotage, Dahal would repeat the feat even by force of habit. It is not for nothing that of late he has been insisting on a permanent leadership of a high-level political committee for himself. This would be an extra-constitutional umbrella body that would effectively serve as a parallel government, and continue where it left off during the tenure of the unelected technocratic government last year. Dahal has threatened to bring the House to a standstill if the NC and UML don’t agree. And if that happens, we can kiss a timely constitution goodbye.

Dahal and Bhattarai conveniently ignore the fact that the November 2013 election was actually a referendum on federalism. Those supporting multiple states, states carved on the basis of ethnicity, and a single Madhes province were routed in the polls. Top UCPN (M), the Madhes-based and Janjati parties lost, or barely scraped through.

Stunned by the sheer scale of the defeat, sympathetic analysts split hairs about “public opinion” and “mandate”.  What next? Some bruised egos need to massaged, including those of Madhes-based party leaders, else they have the capacity to derail any progress. But there is a difference between appeasement and meaningful accommodation.

The Constitution’s validity is guaranteed if there is consensus over its contents or at least major acceptability. The reality is that the final draft will be a compromise that will leave everyone dissatisfied.   Let the Constituent Assembly do its work without any diktat from outside. It has enough in-built mechanisms to find compromises and consensus, and if they can’t find either, follow the Interim Constitution.


Read also:

Constitutional déjà vu, Damakant Jayshi

Black day

The architecture of democracy, Bihari K Shrestha

Reckless federification, Editorial

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