Here we go again. No sooner had PM Bhattarai’s Cabinet decided to extend the term of the Constituent Assembly (CA) for three months one final time, NC President Sushil Koirala is reported to have left a Big Four meeting fuming at the ‘betrayal’ of the Maoist-Madhesi alliance.
But talking to reporters hours later, he had the gall to suggest that another extension would indeed be possible if Bhattarai resigned and made way for a national unity government.
Notwithstanding the fact that the ruling alliance in place till Wednesday already constituted a unity government (bar some legal nitpicking), with both NC and UML on board, Koirala’s flip-flop is Exhibit A of brazen political opportunism in Nepali politics: if NC gets to lead the government, just about any political shenanigan is hunky-dory, including another term extension, but if a Maoist led government makes the same decision (God forbid!) it is a clear breach of law.
If NC’s stand on the issue has been facetious, UML’s is no better. On Thursday, UML Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal repeated Koirala’s trope: the current government’s move asking for another CA term extension is ‘unconstitutional’ since it goes against the Supreme Court’s decision which bars any further extension. But never mind, UML would still be ‘open’ to the possibility if PM Bhattarai is willing to calls it quits.
Apparently, the country’s head of government resigning days before the deadline of the most important political body in the country’s history will somehow facilitate the Constitution process.
The NC and UML want agreements on important issues to be sought right till the D-day, and if disagreements persist, look to settle them through the ‘modified Parliament’ that will remain in place when the CA goes on May 27.
But how does it make a difference whether Nepal’s final Constitution is settled by a CA proper or by a parliament which in any case will enjoy the CA’s powers to amend and alter important points on the proposed Constitution? Nonetheless, if one had to pick between the two, isn’t the issuance of the final Constitution by a de facto CA (whose very existence is invalidated if there is no Constitution) more legit than having the final document being promulgated by its much weaker remnant?
Again, petty nitpicking aside, the argument that the modified Parliament has the legitimacy to complete the work on Constitution is as fallible on legal grounds as the argument that only there can be no further extension of CA term.
We have to remember that the parliamentary function of the body elected in 2008 CA polls was conceived of as a ‘shadow’ of the Constituent Assembly proper. Now to argue that the shadow should remain when the real thing is gone doesn’t make sense.
Thus, if we are to get into a legal battle, the grounds for both CA term extension and giving continuity to the parliamentary aspect of the CA body post-May 27 are problematic. The only difference is that while PM Bhattarai wants to arrive at the Constitution by following a straight path, the NC and UML are essentially arguing: no, why should we take a straight path when there is another convoluted route right around the corner?
It is clear that NC and UML dread the prospect of the promulgation of the final Constitution under Maoist leadership and want to do everything in their ambit to prevent ‘the mother of all horrors.’ They want to have it both ways.
If important agreements are made pre-May 27, the two can claim credit for their ‘constructive’ role. On the other hand, if such agreements cannot be hammered out by May 27, they can point to the Maoists and Madhesi parties in the current government as scapegoats: Look, we wanted the Constitution by May 27. It’s the Maoist-Madhesi plotters who refused to come to agreements by the deadline and forced another extension down our throats.
Probably NC and UML leaders still believe that people cannot see through their thinly-veiled guises. The arguments they have put forth are so stupid, only the most humorless among the lot won’t be able to see the gaping holes in the logic of their top leaders.
Come May 27, both NC and UML are more than likely to accede to an extension, the necessity for which has been felt by both leaderships for some time now, although very few have dared to say so on the record (with UML’s Madhav Nepal being the biggest exception).
But since no party wants to be portrayed as the outfit which dashed the people’s hopes (and is bent on squandering more of people’s hard-earned money on no-good legislators), the race is on to shift the blame for the ultimate crime.
PM Bhattarai, if anything, has made it easier for both NC and UML leaders to save their face by choosing to bell the CA cat himself. And not a moment too soon.
Any proposal for extension has to mature for at least five days before it can be put up for discussion and approval in the assembly, which means that any proposal submitted after May 22 (the date the Cabinet submitted such a proposal), would have been immature for it to be tabled at the CA.
It appears the Nepali Congress and UML would not have had any qualms about subverting another important constitutional provision to earn some brownie points.
Agreed that, as NC and UML leaders have been saying throughout the latest round of political wrangling, no effort should be spared to come to as many agreements on contentious issues as possible before May 27. So the goal should be to make the road ahead for the extended CA easier.
If there is no extension by May 27, it will not just be the Maoists and the Madhesi parties now in the government that will suffer. The blame would fall on the entire political class for its failure to work as one when no less than the country’s future as a viable state is on the line.