5-11 December 2014 #735

‘C’ for constitution

Nepal may finally get its new constitution but it may not be in January
Anurag Acharya
Back in 2012, when Baburam Bhattarai was prime minister and wanted to take disagreements on the constitution to the elected Constitent Assembly (CA) for discussion, there was pressure from all sides against the move. Had the Maoists and Madhesis acted on their own, it would have been seen as a violation of the peace process and confirmed national and international suspicions of their agenda of ‘state-capture’.

History has come a full circle. The NC-UML coalition has a majority, and they want to put contentious issues to the vote in the CA. Only this time, the ruling parties put dialogue committee Chairman Bhattarai under moral pressure to send the issues to the CA.There is still debate over the mechanism, but it looks like all the parties agreed to take the constitution to the CA. All outstanding issues may therefore soon be decided by the House where the ruling parties command comfortable majority.

The NC and UML know that the day after the constitution is delivered they will need political allies to stay in power. So, Sushil Koirala and KP Oli’s offer to bring the Maoists and the Madhesis in the government is neither sudden, nor without a motive. With all major stakeholders in government, automatically avert the danger of the constitution being rejected from the streets.

The Madhesis know they are kingmakers again and are playing for a maximum bargain on the constitution. If they manage to eke out something for their constituency, it will cleanse their image and sustain their politics. Upendra Yadav may keep harping on about one-Madhes, but two-province formula for the Tarai looks like a done deal. Once that deal is struck, the incentive for the Madhesis to remain in the Dahal-led 22-party front will wither. Given time and the right offer of portfolios in the government, they will claim their share of credit for writing the new constitution.

As for Pushpa Kamal Dahal, he has little choice than to agree to take the contentious issues to the CA. It is the only way he can take attention away from party rival Baburam Bhattarai who heads the CA dialogue committee. Dahal knows that if he misses the constitutional bus he will have nothing to show for the war he waged and eight years of politics. He will lose whatever little mass base he has. His visit to Rolpa last month was to invoke his achievements in the cradle of the revolution. Bhattarai will be miffed, but he will swallow the bitter pill and continue his role inside the CA to remain relevant.

Inside the NC and UML, the power struggle between heavyweights will reach its tipping point as constitution looks more likely. Sher Bahadur Deuba will keep reminding Koirala of his promise to step aside after the statute is declared, while Madhav Kumar Nepal will look for every opportunity to take over from ailing KP Oli.

Nepal will settle for an ‘improved’ parliamentary system, whatever that means, and there may be six or seven federal provinces including two in Tarai. The future negotiation inside the CA will revolve around this bottom-line set by the ruling parties. The Maoists will press for declaring autonomous regions within the provinces as a sop to indigenous groups.

As the debates open up in the CA, other constituencies including women and the Dalits will also bargain for their own stakes in the new constitution. At the core of these debates will be greater representation for marginalised communities at all levels of the state. The ‘C’ word could be consensus, or compromise to clinch the constitution debate. The leaders know that the constitution is an evolving document and as long as the basic tenets are agreed to, details can always change when the political climate is more favourable. That way, no one loses.


Read also:

’Tis the season for U-turns, Damakant Jayshi

Let’s get back to work, Editorial

Off the people, for the people, Anurag Acharya

Keep talking, Anurag Acharya

Frivolous federalism, Bihari K Shrestha

Baburam’s challenge, Anurag Acharya

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