9-15 January 2015 #740

Sky won’t fall but that’s not the point

We have been waiting nearly eight years for a new constitution, but can the parties justify another extension?
Damakant Jayshi
Short of a miracle, the constitution will not be written by next week, and the political parties will be setting themselves a new deadline. Indeed, we would be fortunate if we get some kind of draft by 22 January, which would then be sent to public for its opinion and comments.

It is difficult to say which way the wind will blow after that since the parties have a track-record of doing nothing despite extending deadlines repeatedly. They also have a habit of springing surprises at the eleventh hour, so there is still some hope.

Some politicians, like Baburam Bhattarai, have of late started sounding optimistic that some sort of a document can be passed by the deadline. But even if it isn’t ready, he has said: “The sky won’t fall.”

No, it won’t. After all, we have been waiting for the constitution since 2008 when the first CA was elected. So the wait for the statute is nearing seven years, not just 12 months. Some more of the waiting period would not be unusual, but can the parties justify another extension of the deadline?

The behaviour of the political party leaders so far does not elicit much hope. The differences on federal structure, model of governance and electoral system have remained wide, masking the real jockeying for power inside closed doors. Telling the media scrum outside “a consensus would be reached in three days” has been the norm. We have seen countless such “three days” pass by.

The CA has reverted the disputes to the Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee (PDCC) headed by Bhattarai. He has behaved and acted more like a Maoist party boss than an objective chairman. His own role in the lack of progress on the constitution has escaped the scrutiny it deserves.

Part of the delay rests on his shoulder for not calling a meeting of the committee after ruling party members in the body collected signature against his functioning. He also did not allow the committee to prepare the mandatory questionnaire with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ section for voting. This is what the regulations specify and the larger CA instructed PDCC, twice, to do so. Both times the instructions were ignored.

Bhattarai, naturally, was criticised for his dubious role in all this, which is why he is now trying to back-pedal furiously and show that there is still hope. He is a politician who is convinced he can do no wrong, and seethes are criticism, but he is conscious about which way the public mood is swining and is resorting to another gimmick.

Now, unfortunately, the parties have thrown the matter back to the CA committee to buy themselves more time. The PDCC has to work to narrow down the differences or suggest alternatives, which is a tall order. Let us genuinely hope that they will surprise us by actually coming up with a solution that will allow at least the four political forces to claim some sort of victory.

But this decision is fraught. It only leaves 10 days for the deadline. The UCPN (Maoist), the Madhesi Morcha and a section of the NC and UML would not mind missing the deadline. For the Maoists and the Madhesi parties there is no sense of urgency to passing the constitution through this CA. Theonly issue would be losing the trust of the people if the CA does not have anything to show. For some NC and the UML factions, it would mean a failure of their party rivals and they can take advantage of it.

The onus, thus, is on the NC and the UML leaders on meeting the deadline in some way – be it an agreed draft, or even a preamble to the new constitution. This is not impossible because on fundamental values like democracy, republicanism, secularism, and federalism, the four political forces are on the same page. Only the fourth single largest party, RPP-Nepal, has serious differences on at least two of these principles. So passing a preamble with an overwhelming majority – much bigger than the mandatory two-thirds one – would demonstrate some progress.

It is not just the NC and the UML which should worry about the consequences of repeating the failure of CA 1. The Nepali People have demonstrated ample patience and forgiveness. The parties need to remember the promises they made to the people. Perhaps this will goad them into action.

On two occasions in this space in past issues, I have written that the parties need to accept and acknowledge that they cannot have a win-win consensus on disputed issues. They will stick to their own ideas, at least in public. That will not change.

This taking some tough decisions in the coming week.

@damakant

Read also:

Spanner in the works, Om Astha Rai

The end of the road, Om Astha Rai

Parties not willing- Nembang, Om Astha Rai

Taskless force, Editorial

One month to go, Editorial

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