--By Akhilesh Tripathi
As it happened to be, the much-awaited all-party political conference or round table conference – to use a more popular phrase- which was supposed to see a dialogue take place among the three major parties represented in the Constituent Assembly (CA) and the parties outside it, on the contentious issues of constitution drafting, fell flat. The reason was, as we all know, the 33-party alliance led by Mohan Baidya-led CPN-Maoist which is not represented in the CA and which had been demanding such a conference for a long time rejected to participate in the conference in the eleventh hour. The leaders of the CPN-Maoist and the 33-party alliance outside the CA never turned up for the conference. The CPN-Maoist communicated its decision not to attend the conference when Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and other political leaders had taken their seats at the planned venue inside the CA building. Thus, the politicians’ latest effort to seek consensus on contentious constitutional issues went in vain. But thankfully, as the conference failed to take off, it became clear that the Maoists had thrown the conference card only to delay the new constitution by affecting the CA calendar.
Some people might think that this was bad for the country and the constitution drafting process as an opportunity to forge consensus on thorny issues of constitution drafting inside as well as outside the CA was missed. But in fact, this was good for the country and the constitution drafting process as the real intent of the CPN-Maoist and other dissenting parties outside the CA was exposed without losing any further time. Their real intent was to delay the constitution drafting process by the CA under one or another pretext. In fact, Baidya and company have, time and again, publicly expressed their disenchantment with the constitution drafting process by the CA. After all, they boycotted the second CA elections terming it “a meaningless exercise”.
One political game to affect the CA’s calendar and delay the constitution drafting process was exposed in the form of the failed all-party political conference. But other such games continue - some within the CA itself - in the name of seeking consensus on the key issues including form of governance and restructuring of the state, election system and judiciary. One serious blame is leveled against the very Constitutional-Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee (CPDCC) of the CA that was formed to hold discussions on the thorny issues of constitution drafting and build consensus on them.
The blame is that the CPDCC has been trying to delay the constitution drafting process to find the mirage called consensus. The CPDCC led by UCPN (Maoist) leader and former PM Dr Baburam Bhattarai has already missed a deadline of September 6 to forge consensus on the prickly issues of constitution drafting. Then it was given another deadline of September 30 to build such consensus. As things stand now, the CPDCC will not be able to forge consensus on the contentious issues within this deadline as well. Now voices are emerging that it should be given another chance to forge such a consensus which has proved elusive so far. One such voice has been floated by the UCPN (Maoist) which thinks the CPDCC should get one more month, even if that means the amendment of the CA calendar, to forge consensus.
That should not be done. All lawmakers who had registered to speak on the contentious issues have spoken their mind at the deliberations organized by the CPDCC and consensus still looks a very far cry. So, extending the CPDCC ‘s deadline would be just a waste of time and resources.
On the other hand, it’s been quite some time since the three major parties in CA II – the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and UCPN (Maoist) are trying to form a High Level Political Mechanism (HLPM) in the name of facilitating the constitution drafting process. It is said that UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Prachanda is eying the post of coordinator of this proposed mechanism. To put the truth bluntly, there is no need for such a mechanism. It is also a game to delay the constitution drafting process by weakening the sovereign CA’s role in that process.
The word consensus sounds very sweet to the ear. Everybody’s consent on the key crucial issues of the constitution would be an ideal situation. No one would disagree that it is best to settle the contentious issues through consensus. But what if it is not possible? Can the country be kept a hostage for an indefinite period if consensus on contentious issues continues to elude us? Politicians have already squandered seven years in the process of statute drafting, mainly because they tried to forge consensus on the so-called thorny issues. In fact, trying to forge consensus on the contentious issues was the main reason why the first CA was dissolved without delivering the new constitution.
Nepal tried to forge consensus among all political parties on the contentious issues of constitution drafting during the first CA. Series after series of negotiations were held. Marathon meetings were held. But it simply did not work. The country reached nowhere perhaps because we tried to please all forces in the name of finding consensus. This should be why the major parties agreed, even before the second CA elections were held, to follow due process if they failed to reach consensus on contentious issues in CA II.
That due process means deciding the contentious issues of constitution drafting through voting in the CA, which is the sovereign body to decide such matters. Or, alternatively – if a more democratic measure is to be adopted – we can hold a referendum to decide these issues. Here, the politicians can take some lessons from the recent Scotland voting where the Scots decided their fate through a referendum. It is still possible to hold such a referendum on the contentious issues as there still remains more than three months to promulgate the new constitution. But the decision has to be taken swiftly, if the country is to go the referendum way.
However, the bottom line is no more precious time should be wasted in the name of forging a consensus.