--By Achyut Wagle
The matter of graver concern is: this CA is increasingly appearing to be dysfunctional to such an extent that it perhaps will never be able to write a functional constitution which would embody all three desired ingredients of federalism, republicanism and democracy.
The science of management describes 'redundancy' as the workforce that is no longer needed simply because it failed to be productive with respect to the cost that incurs. From this perspective, the six hundred and one member brigade of the Constituent Assembly (CA) has completely become redundant, thus deserves an instant lay-off. But, unfortunately, this is politics not management. The lay-off is harder done than said. The nation is forced to continuously pay them hefty sums despite their absolute failure to perform and deliver on the task they are assigned to - the writing of a new constitution for 'federal democratic Nepal.' The matter of graver concern is: this CA is increasingly appearing to be dysfunctional to such an extent that it perhaps will never be able to write a functional constitution which would embody all three desired ingredients of federalism, republicanism and democracy. This, if so happens, would be horrifying fate to Nepal in all respects. Sadly enough, we are rapidly heading to that direction.
The derailment of the constitution writing process started during CA-I itself, with the exercise of letting the crucial and contentious issues of future constitution to be discussed outside of the CA, in the name of forging ever-elusive consensus among the top leaders of the so called 'major political forces' of the country. The overarchingly feudal character of the top leaders in all parties, by design, undermined the importance of the CA as the major platform to discuss everything about constitution writing and about the process to ratify its potential provisions.
The authority and the responsibility of both the CAs as the institution and its members as the people's representatives have since the very start of the business in previous CA been hijacked by a handful of top hats of, invariably, all mainstream political parties. Ironically, the first priority of all these leaders has never been the constitution writing but grabbing the power, serving the party and personal vested interests and, then only any energy, if that is left, was vested to the issues of constitution making, effectively in that order.
The deadline of January 22 to deliver the new constitution did pass, though not surprisingly, without any tangible progress made in resolving the contentious issues of federalization and the nature of political and administrative set-up of future Nepal. The situation now becomes more precarious not because aforesaid deadline lapsed without any achievement but because the leaders are not able to agree even to assign a new deadline to deliver the new constitution. This means, the fear of similar fate to the CA-II as that of CA-I looms even larger. The main reason of this fear is: no major political force is whole-heartedly dedicating itself to the cause of constitution writing.
The ruling Nepali Congress (NC) is already preoccupied with its upcoming general convention scheduled for coming September. The contesting factions led by prime minister and president of the party Sushil Koirala and the senior leader Sher Bahadur Deuba respectively have started exchanging diatribes as part of their campaign to capture the party leadership. As it appears, their campaign to take control of the party reins is likely to hit below the belt of the opposition very often than not. Both sides are likely to roll down all the chips, black and white, to bring cheers to their folds, thereby not sparing any energy toward writing the constitution until their fortunes in the party leadership are finally tested. There are hints that machinations will be unleashed to change the guards at Singhadurbar by Deuba faction to weaken Koirala and defence wall of suitable scale would be raised by Koirala faction to remain in power. It is because both sides firmly believe that being in power makes it easier to woo the party rank and file in the fray of capturing the party. It may be construed that they are inclined to misuse the public resources for the purpose, which indeed could be the case. But, this has been the practice for long regardless of which party or a faction of that was heading the government. The CPN-UML did it more than once and UCPN-Maoists too didn't lag behind to exploit the state resources at several occasions.
It may be recalled that the first six months of CA tenure was eaten in the run-up to similar convention of the major coalition partner, the CPN-UML. The fight then between KP Oli who won the party presidentship with a narrow margin and his opponent Madhav Kumar Nepal was intense and rather undignified. It left this centre-left party bitterly divided into perpetually contesting factions. This has not only rendered the party indecisive in crucial issues of the constitution writing but also has critically impacted upon the positions it takes on federalism and balance of power provisions to be included in the future constitution. The priority of UML leaders at present has been to manage their internal feud than facilitating the constitution writing and state restructuring processes.
The third largest force UCPN Maoist, which calls itself an opposition in CA against the norm and universal practice of the CA itself, is virtually in tatters now. Since it surfaced from the jungle warfare into the battlefield of mainstream, vote-based politics, it is duped into more than half a dozen splits during last eight years. Two major binding forces, the universally acceptable leadership and/or passionately binding political philosophy are now in ramshackle - the shards of which now look impossible to be glued back to the old shape and might. But the party leadership dominated mainly by old hawks duo, Puspa Kamal Dahal and Dr Baburam Bhattarai, still has the illusion of steering the old version of the powerful party and expect to wield the national course of politics as they did in their heydays. But their faded glory has naturally ceased to charm the public and the oppositions alike.
Their predicament resulted out of the concoction of old egos and new realities, forcing them to resort to tantrums and tactics that are essentially detrimental to the principles of democracy and the possibility of wider political consensus, which they themselves are touting in higher pitches than all others. So much so, they have chosen highly strange bedfellows, who have highly divisive and sectarian political planks, to make their voices heard particularly regarding the identity-based federalism. The so called thirty-party alliance created under the leadership of Dahal comprises politically non-existent entities in terms of their influence at any national political space and his threats to write constitution from the streets gravely undermines the very existence and constitutionality of CA as a sovereign representative institution of Nepali people.
The true intention of the Maoist is not to write a constitution through the CA process at this stage and it is understandable since their total numerical strength in the House is clearly less than the one-third of the total votes. But their refusal to act according to their strength is unquestionably undemocratic. Effectively, it is going to be their political end-game either way. If they surrendered to the CA process, their agenda will be easily defeated by the House vote. And, if they continue to stay away from the CA process, the constitution is never likely to be written and the public will ultimately hold them responsible for this failure.
Even the 'game' of consensus is becoming increasingly tricky. It is impossible to have a 'grand' consensus among primarily four diverse nature of forces that have strength to influence the CA outcome. It would be impractical to expect the rightists like Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP)-Nepal, RPP and Janashakti Party of former royalists, centrist democrats like NC and democratic lefts UML, ultra-lefts like UCPN-Maoists and, the parties advocating for regional and ethnic identities to come together and agree on surmisably divergent agenda forwarded commensurate to their different philosophies. In effect, the CA sooner or later has no alternative to getting into voting procedure if it were to finalize and deliver a new constitution. But, utter rejection of this idea by the Maoist-led coalition only makes things complex and lengthens the writing process. Thus it appears as deliberately adopted pretentious position of the Maoists just to impede the writing process.
One amazingly destructive position has been taken by none other than CA Chairman Subash Chandra Nembang himself, who publicly urges the leaders to forge this 'impossible' consensus, ostensively outside of the House; before returning to House business on any debatable agenda. What is blatantly unconstitutional in this is: he is not encouraging the parties to discuss every motion, agreeable or contentious, to moot into the House first and try to resolve them within the acceptable norms, rules and practices of the CA. His rhapsodies are thus self-defeating to the very cause of the CA and democracy.
Clearly, leaders of any party now are not interested to set a new time frame to complete the constitution writing and promulgate it sooner. To repeat, the very basic groundwork on the numeric of demography, geography and economy has not been done so as to federalize the nation in just and functional fashion. There is disagreement even at some fundamental aspects like what constitutes an inclusive democracy for Nepal.
A composite conclusion of all these ominous trends is that CA is yet again proving to be ineffective and, therefore, Nepal is not likely to get the new constitution any time soon. Only solution to this crisis is to return to the CA business and exert all muscles, be that for consensus, process or even dissents, within the four walls of the House. The farther debate spills out of the House process, the more difficult will it be to deliver the constitution. Therefore, the leaders should first agree not to make CA a redundant structure that accommodates voiceless cronies of the party feudal lords.
The writer is former editor of Aarthik Abhiyan National Daily.