Delay to find an answer is likely lead to extension of the tenure of present legislature-parliament.
--BY SHANT SHARMA
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has two daunting but urgent tasks ahead. First is amending the constitution so as to address the demands of the Madhes-based parties. And second is holding local elections. Amending the constitution is necessary to garner Madhes-based parties’ support to the new constitution and making it an acceptable-to-all document. Similarly, holding local polls (by May end??) is crucial to meet the constitutional requirement to hold all three tiers of elections – local, provincial and federal - by January 2018. However, it seems Dahal will be able to accomplish none of these two tasks.
Present parliamentary arithmetic and political equation clearly suggest that the Constitution amendment bill moved by the government does not have the required two-thirds majority in parliament. The two major constituents of the ruling coalition – Maoists and the Nepali Congress – together have 287 members, short of another 110 votes for a two-thirds majority. The Rastriya Prajatantra Party and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal which recently merged as the RPP remain non-committal on the issue despite being a part of the ruling coalition. The RPP has 37 members in parliament, but it has already decided that its support will be conditional.
“If the government incorporates our view—restoring Nepal’s status as a Hindu nation once again–we will be supporting the bill,” a senior leader of the party said. The two parties which merged three weeks ago had agreed on ‘Hindu Nepal’ as a common agenda leaving its nationwide delegation session due in second half of January to decide on whether the party should endorse a ‘Republic Nepal’ or restoration of ‘Constitutional Monarchy’.
There is virtually no chance of the Maoists compromising on the ‘secular’ status of the constitution. So, there is no question of the RPP supporting the amendment bill in its present form. The main opposition, CPN-UML, and the RPP combining against the constitution amendment bill, on the other hand, will defeat the bill that may lead to the fall of the government. But “Prime Minister Dahal will not resign under any circumstances,” asserts Maoist Party Spokesperson Pampha Bhusal. A section of the RPP is insisting that it should walk away from the government before a vote is held on the bill in parliament.
Dahal however, is still interacting with the main opposition UML, as well as the RPP telling them to move their ‘amendments’ to the bill , but as parties have mostly settled their ‘interests’ through ‘deals’ outside in the past one decade of transition, Parliament may not be that effective in offering a solution to the vexed issue before it. On the other hand, the nine opposition parties including the main Opposition UML have the required number of votes in parliament to foil the constitution amendment bill. So, it is safe to assume that the government won’t be able to garner a two-thirds majority in support of the amendment bill in the House.
Now, the local elections. Even as major political parties reiterated on Jan 21 that the local-level elections must be held by mid-May, there are many hurdles to overcome to hold the elections within that time.
As the clock is ticking away to hold three tiers of elections within the stipulated deadline of January, 2018, the major parties have yet to arrive at a consensus to amend the constitution, and bring the agitating Madhes-based parties on board the election process. During a meeting of the three major parties--Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center)--on January 21, the main opposition party, UML, reiterated its demand for withdrawal of the amendment bill, while the ruling parties refused to budge.
Secretary General of the Rastriya Madhes Samajbadi Party (RMSP) Keshav Jha says that the Madhes-based parties will object if the government decides to announce the date of local-level poll without amending the constitution. “We are morally bound to oppose any election held without amending the constitution. What will our electorate think if we decide to take part in the election without addressing our key demands?” he asks.
While the passage of the amendment bill from parliament is easier said than done, the complication that has arisen after the commission formed to restructure local units submitted its report to the government is another important issue to be resolved before holding the election. Besides a few other districts, serious disputes have arisen in the delineation of local units in Province 2 as the Commission officials were forced to delineate local units from Kathmandu due to protests by Madhes-based parties.
The Madhes-based parties had decided not to allow the commission officials to visit the districts in Province 2 unless the disputes related to the delineation of federal provinces were settled.
While the delineation of local units has courted serious disputes, the Madhes-based parties have also expressed reservation in the constitutional provision to elect members of the upper house from the electoral college consisting of chiefs and deputy chiefs of village and municipal councils in the new federal structure. This, according to Madhes-based parties, fails to give due consideration to the size of population.
Keeping in view the demand of the Madhes-based parties, the constitution was amended for the first time in January last year -- four months after its promulgation -- to ensure population as the primary basis and geography as the secondary basis to determine election constituencies. Madhes-based parties have maintained that the current delineation of village and muncipal councils in Province 2 fails to ensure their proportionate representation in the upper house.
Jha says the agitating Madhes-based parties have proposed removing the provisions in the constitution that allow the chiefs and deputy chiefs of village and municipal councils to elect upper house members. “Even if our demands are fulfilled within the next few days, it is almost impossible now to hold the polls by mid-May. We may be able to hold the poll by mid-June if the parties grew serious enough to address genuine grievances of the agitating parties on time,” he further said, echoing the position of Election Commission (EC).
The EC Commissioners have been saying in public that there is slim chance of holding the local polls by mid-May, as the major political parties have not only failed to settle the outstanding constitutional disputes, but also failed to get the election-related bills endorsed from parliament.
The bottom line is the parties are sure to waste some more crucial time before the issues of constitution amendment and local polls are settled. This also means the game to extend the term of the current legislature which was transformed into a parliament from the second Constituent Assembly has already begun.