--By Achyut Wagle
If the ongoing irresponsible behaviour of some of the key political players of the country doesn't come to a halt, it is certain that the Constituent Assembly-Two (CA-II) will also not be able to deliver a new democratic constitution for the 'federal new Nepal.' The major impediment to the new constitution writing process has two folds: the first, no party is adhering to the mandate and processes of the CA, and crucial political bargaining are taking place out of the constitutional and the CA ambit. The second, smaller parties in and outside of the CA still rule the roost by forming a twenty-two party alliance to oppose any stand that the main two political parties in CA --Nepali Congress (NC) and UML --are likely to take with regard to potential provisions for the new constitution and its writing process. This al-liance led by UCPN Maoist Chairman Puspa Kamal Dahal is resorting to tantrums akin to that of a pressure group -- organizing street protests, flexing muscles and causing disruptions to CA proceedings, in some pretext or the other.
If a public meeting organized by this alliance in the mid-October at the open-air theatre in Tundikhel, Kathmandu, is any indication, the Maoists are again determined to ruin the second CA as they did to the first, rendering it hostage of blatant indecision at the high-level political committee (HLPC). The speakers in that meeting declared a number of daring things that are aimed at rendering the very authority of the CA non-existent and prevaricate the democratic mandate and process. It raises fears of another cycle of violent politics. This is because, Dahal made three crucial revelations: he would not respect the arithmetic of CA, no constitution could be written without incorporating his agenda of 'identity' and he repented on agreeing to the “management of his Red Army and the arms before the constitution of ‘his choice’ was written”. As can be recalled, the process through which some of the former Maoist rebels were given employment in the Nepal Army and rest were sent home by paying generous gratuity, is normally referred to as “management of former Maoist rebels”.
Needless to repeat, all these are clearly anti-democratic postures. His refusal to accept the 'numbers' as they stand in the present CA disregards the people's mandate expressed through the last ballots. His adamance not to comply with the universally accepted democratic practice to decide every contending agenda by majority votes in CA would leave all major political differences undecided indefinitely, in absence of any other feasible alternative process.
On the issue of identity, Dahal has been successful to rally the support of other eleven fringe parties that are present in CA and equal number of others without any representative in the House. His insistence is that the earlier CA had somehow agreed to 'identity-based federalism' and the current CA too shouldn't deviate from those understandings, written or unwritten. But the fact is: the identity agenda largely got defeated in the CA-II elections and electorates gave completely new verdict, pushing the Maoists into the third position and giving a two-thirds majority to the NC and the UML combined. The manifestoes of the latter two emphatically reassures the voters to write a pluralistic constitution with possible least number of provinces, above all, on the basis of their economic viability. But Dahal's deliberate intention seems to undermine this reality and try to thrust his agenda by exerting force to disrupt the CA proceedings and effecting road blockades. It is worth recalling that Dahal’s party UCPN-Maoist too has mentioned in its election manifesto that voting will be resorted to if the efforts for consensus fail. Moreover, the CA-II has also adopted a rules book in which it mentions that issues in which no consensus could be reached shall be decided by voting.
Dahal’s repentance on 'early surrender of arms and army' also smacks of his ill intentions to use that guerrilla force as the tool to political blackmailing, as in the past. His partners in protests, the Madhesi and Janajati parties are more than enthused by the political patronage of the UCPN-Maoist and also by the fact that their agenda defeated in popular votes is now shouldered by the Maoists, the third largest party in CA. It is not difficult to understand that Dahal is now desperate as he is very fast losing his political ground. Not only his party got reduced to the third largest in the CA-II from the first in CA-I, it currently commands bare 14 percent of total votes in the House. That is why he is against of the CA arithmetic. Also, his party is at the verge of further division after the main ideologue Dr Baburam Bhattarai has challenged Dahal's authority from within and intensified the efforts to create a 'new force'. For, all these reasons, Dahal is experimenting on any possible political adventurism to save his existence as leader to be reckoned with. This is understandable. What is completely incomprehensible is why other two larger parties, NC and UML, are succumbing to these tantrums of Dahal, resorting to one after another undemocratic moves and decisions. Why can't they say that no political decision regarding the constitution writing could be taken outside the CA and beyond the popular mandate?
One of the overused platitudes of Dahal has been 'consensus in constitution writing.' On the surface, this appears as a benevolent idea. But, in essence, it is implicit design to take the constitution writing process away from CA to HLPC. Since the country has expensed so much to ensure diverse representation in CA, it is impossible to arrive at consensus at every motion mooted in the CA. Therefore, accepting to resolve all contentious issues through already defined CA rules and processes, including voting, is absolutely within democratic values and norms. Dahal and his allies has problem in this, because it is surely a losing game for them as they simply lack the number of members in CA to pass their agenda. But, if they believe in democracy, instead of exerting to disrupt the processes, they should accept the outcome by explaining their point of view such that can woo the public support in the next polls.
But that needed patience Dahal clearly lacks and he is now wielding a double-edged sword -- simultaneously leading the street protests and holding the convenorship of HLPC that was dug out last month off the grave of the last CA, merely to placate Dahal's ambition of chairing it. Interestingly, he successfully capitulated the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML leadership to form this apparently unconstitutional 'superpower centre' that is often practically portrayed as above all the political mechanisms of the country -- including the prime minister, the CA and the parliament. Or, at least, Dahal wanted HLPC to function in that fashion. This too is an undemocratic demeanour.
Naturally, the voice of other allies in Tundikhel was more aggressive. Sadbhawan Party leader Rajendra Mahato said he would not let the constitution be finalised on the basis of 'majority vote in the CA' and Ashok Rai of Federal Socialist Party warned of 'pulling the NC and UML leaders by their collars' to agree to their demand of identity-first federalism. What all this means is: there is every effort going on not to recognize and treat the CA as the only constitutionally validated body to write the constitution. This is perhaps the gravest danger that Nepal's political process faces at this moment. For the UCPN-Maoist and other smaller parties, their action might be justifiable to the extent to make their presence felt in the national political spectrum. But it is highly surprising to see that the NC and UML are readily agreeing to the demands of these parties without considering their consequences and not working enough to deliver a timely constitution despite their clear majority in the CA-II that allows them to write the constitution themselves.
At this juncture, three political personalities have performed far short of their responsibilities and expectations from their respective public positions. First is Prime Minister Sushil Koirala who has failed to deliver the governance in every possible field you may name. His ministers are working berserk. His slogan of 'clean government' has hit rock bottom in every appointment in the constitutional bodies, judiciary to executive branches. It took four months for the House to pass the appropriation bill. When issue of poor governance is raised, he retorts with saying 'the focus is on constitution writing.' When the mayhem in constitution writing is pointed, he just vents anger on the people who dared to ask. His lacklustre performance is only costing the country very dear in every front, mainly as coupling hindrances in constitution writing process.
The second person who could have changed the things for the better but doing very little or nothing is Subhash Chandra Nembang, the CA Chairman. When House was disrupted continuously for five weeks in September, his presence was nowhere felt. He kept on urging the political parties 'to agree' on certain things. But, his responsibility was not to urge for agreement but to run the House business according to the already laid-down laws, rules and precedents. His failure is more acutely felt in his inability to 'educate' the CA members in the processes and contents of the constitution writing. He even failed to inculcate in the minds of the CA members that they are representatives of the sovereign people, not the stooges of the political bigwigs. Over and above, he himself appears to be acting as the stooge of big leaders, waiting for signals to come from the quarters like HLPC.
The third personality who failed to deliver up to the expectation is Dr Baburam Bhattarai, Chairman of the Constitutional Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee (PDCC) in the CA. He kept on jumping around to appear as if he is honestly trying to extract some magic consensus, but without doing proper homework particularly to finalize the agenda of state restructuring. He tried to forge the so-called consensus in the vacuum. One of the main bones of contention among the political parties has been the number of provinces that the new constitution should delineate to federalize Nepal. But these parties have all in unison failed to come up with the basic logic of any particular number they have picked to propose as their agenda. As such, Bhattarai should have been able to come up with data on economic and political viability of the possible provinces and presented them dispassionately to the political parties. Instead, he himself ventured to propose some eight, nine or ten provinces, without any database to support his proposal. This was naive move both as the Chairman of PDCC, who should have ideally remained neutral in all these bickering and, also as a learned man, he must have come with alternative data-supported analysis such as 'if we go for eight provinces, the per capita income of Nepalis will rise in X-rate while with eleven it goes up/down by Y-rate.' But, alas, nothing of the sort is happening.
This is to conclude that, until and unless we revert back to essence of democracy from pressure tantrums, allow CA to function as the only legitimate place to discuss everything regarding the constitution writing and provide some factual basis to ascertain the number of provinces as well as the administrative structure of the 'new' state, the new constitution will continue to remain a mirage, for unforeseen time to come.
The writer is former editor of Aarthik Abhiyan National Daily.