19-25 December 2014 #737

Contentious consensus

There is much more to the constitution debate than the constitution
Anurag Acharya
Absurdity has always been the hallmark of Nepali politics so it is not surprising that even the best in the business have given up trying to make sense of it.

When I met political science professor Krishna Khanal earlier this week to seek answers, this is how he began: “Let me be very frank, if we go by the logic that the parties are concentrating all their efforts on constitution drafting, we will miss the whole picture.”

To be sure, overall environment for drafting the statute has improved. The sentiments have calmed down, the streets are quieter and parties are now trying to reason on issues where they earlier were impulsive. However, the political environment remains murky.

As early as 2011, I had argued in this column that the sticking point was not so much on the number of provinces, name or the forms of governance. They only appear as immediate factors of contention among the parties who are looking to score long-term brownie points for their role in drafting the new constitution.

There will always be many sides to the story, but one of the main reasons why the first CA was dissolved is because NC and UML were scared that the Maoists and the Madhesis were running away with their share of the credit. Three years later, the tables are turned and this time it is the Maoists and the Madhesis who harbour similar fears about the NC-UML taking all the credit for the new constitution Then there are also the personal political ambitions at stake here. UML’s KP Oli wants to wait till January and push for the unity government under himself, while Prime Minister Sushil Koirala is determined to see the statute written while he is in office. Sher Bahadur Deuba, Madhav Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Bijay Kumar Gachchhadar are all looking to secure their positions within their parties and in the government beforehand. They all know that once the statute is finalised the political alignments can change dramatically.

Fingers can be pointed in any direction, but the reason Maoists and the Madhesis will not agree to the NC-UML joint proposal today is the same reason why NC-UML decided to reject State Restructuring Commission’s report and go back on agreement of 15 May 2012, which they are now calling ‘obsolete’.

The good news is that the parties aren’t as insecure of their legacy and contribution in the drafting process as they were back then. So, despite being in the opposition and disagreeing on several issues, the Maoists and the Madhesis will still have sufficient incentive to cooperate in finalising the draft.

The decision to take the contentious issue for an open debate in the CA is an encouraging development in this regard. However, the ruling parties must not stifle the debate and use numerical strength to dictate their terms inside the house.

“Particularly on the issue of state restructuring, the parties must arrive at an agreeable model even if it has some economic implications, rather than the one that will breed conflict in the long run,” Prof Khanal told me. “Because the issue of inclusion and identity has been at the heart of all recent political movements.”

Indeed, constitution drafting is not just a technical exercise where the focus is exclusively on content. It is as much a political exercise which requires broader ownership and acceptance. The personal credibility and negotiation skills of the leaders matter more than the numerical strengths to back their decisions. The Maoists realised this once they were in the government, Sushil Koirala and KP Oli know that by now, too.

In the end, like all things political, it may still boil down to give-and-take.


Read also:

One month to go, Editorial

"The clock is ticking"

Asstrologers and horrorscopes

‘C’ for constitution, Anurag Acharya

Let’s get back to work, Editorial

Dangers of delay, Anurag Acharya

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