KATHMANDU, May 28: The last few days of hectic negotiations turned futile late Sunday night with political parties failing to forge consensus on the contentious issue of federalism.
"We tried our best to forge consensus, but we failed to save the Constituent Assembly," Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal announced at 9:30 pm, ending all speculations that ran amok throughout the day.
Coming out of the inter-party negotiations, Dahal informed the waiting press that the parties were instead delving into alternatives -- extension of the CA term by opting for state of emergency or seeking a fresh mandate.
Prior to the announcement, the parties engaged in negotiations in various rounds throughout Sunday but could not reach consensus on the modalities of federalism.
The Constituent Assembly (CA) that was entrusted to bring a new statute came to an end without accomplishing the task after the major parties remained stuck to their earlier stances.
The parties had earlier reached an informal understanding to forge consensus on promulgating a “draft constitution” and let the “transformed parliament” deal with the contentious issues -- mainly naming and determining the number and boundary of federal states. The talks between the parties, however, came to a standstill after the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), an alliance of five Madhesi parties, insisted on finalizing the contentious issues and the Mohan Baidya-led faction of the UCPN (Maoist) demanded single ethnic-identity based federal states.
The talks also faltered due to NC and UML´s opposition against two-provinces in the Tarai-Madhes districts as proposed by the UCPN (Maoist) and UDMF. NC and UML were adamant on a five-province model in the region keeping in view their capacity and identity.
“The original plan to present a draft constitution in the CA could not materialize as there was no possibility of garnering two-thirds majority in favor of the draft constitution in the CA,” said a senior UML leader. “We were then left with only two options to either announce an election date or impose emergency to buy a few more months to bring the new statute.”
The CA members, who had desperately been waiting for the new constitution in the CA building, returned home with much disappointment after learning that the government had decided to announce election for November 22.
In their last-ditch efforts to arrive at consensus, top leaders of the UCPN (Maoist), NC, UML and UMDF had arrived at the prime minister´s official residence in Baluwatar 9 am, Sunday. But as the NC and UML ruled out the possibility of adopting single ethnic identity-based province, the Maoist leadership had invited cross-party indigenous nationalities caucus leaders including Prithivi Subba Gurung, Jip Chhiring Lama and Indra Bahadur Gurung for discussions to settle the row over naming the provinces.
While showing flexibility on mixed identity for provinces, the caucus leaders had asked Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai to stick to single-ethnic identity based provinces. “We asked them not to forgo demand for single-identity based provinces. We also told them that they could go for mixed identity based federal provinces if there is a possibility of the dissolution of the CA,” caucus coordinator Prithivi Subba Gurung told media persons after the meeting.
The consent of lawmakers belonging to indigenous nationalities to go for mixed identity-based province helped resolve the issue of identity with regards to naming the provinces. But negotiations on the number of provinces in future federal structure continued to hit snag as NC and UML rejected the proposal of the Maoists and UDMF to have only two provinces in the Tarai-Madhes districts.
During the negotiations Sunday, NC leaders had proposed 13-provinces, including five provinces in the Tarai-Madhes districts in the future federal model.
The Maoists then invited coordinator of Broader Madhesi Front (BMF) Upendra Yadav to Baluwatar for consultation on the number of provinces in the Tarai-Madhes districts. “Maoist leaders told us that they were under pressure from NC and UML not to go for identity-based provinces. There were also talks on disintegrating Madhes,” Yadav told media persons after the meeting.
Yadav said he clearly told the Maoists that the new constitution without federalism and federalism without identity was not acceptable to them. “We told them that all the fundamental issues should be settled by the CA and leave only a few remaining issues for the extended parliament to resolve,” he told media persons.
Leaders of the three major parties and UDMF then held consultations with CA Chairman Subas Nembang on the issue of “extended parliament”. The plan of the major parties to bring an “incomplete” constitution and authorize the extended parliament to settle the issue of federalism was dropped after both the Madhes-based parties and Baidya-led faction of the UCPN (Maoist) said that they would not vote for an “incomplete constitution”.
On Saturday, the three major parties had reached a tentative understanding to authorize the extended parliament to settle the remaining contentious issues in constitution writing. Sources close to UML said this could not be implemented as UDMF and other Madhes-based parties strongly objected to the proposal to keep the issue of federalism pending.
The leaders of the major parties had held internal consultations with legal experts on ways to salvage the achievements made through the historic CA. Sources said they had even discussed amending the interim constitution with a provision to settle the remaining issues of constitution through an extended parliament.
The proposal for amending the interim constitution was dropped keeping in view the threats from Madhes-based parties and the Baidya faction that they would not vote in favor of the proposal. A standing committee meeting of the UCPN (Maoist) held later at the prime minister´s office at Singha Durbar had decided to announce CA election date for November 22 through a cabinet meeting.
Earlier, lawmakers from the ruling UDMF had decided to resign en masse from the Constituent Assembly (CA) saying that NC and CPN-UML had hatched a conspiracy against identity-based federalism in the new constitution.