In perhaps the biggest blow to the cause of democracy in the country, the most representative elected body in Nepal´s history was dissolved on Sunday, four tumultuous years after its election. In the four years, the Constituent Assembly´s term was extended four times, and each time Nepalis were told that the political class was within touching distance of the constitution of the new federal republic. We are sorry to say that, in the final analysis, the political class has miserably failed to honor people´s mandate. And as we have maintained all along, they deserve every bit of blame assigned to them for their disregard of people´s aspiration for a peaceful, democratic and inclusive society.
The issue of CA term extension should never have been left this late. As we have been reiterating in the last few days, extending the body´s term for one last time would have been the best course of action given the absence of better alternatives. Our rationale was simple: a transformed parliament, as was being envisioned, would not have had the legitimacy of a CA proper to decide on remaining constitution related issues. For we believed that such an extension would also have given the country time to accommodate the demands of the marginalized communities, who had, with the May 27 deadline fast approaching, been steadily mounting pressure on the political parties for inclusion of their legitimate demands in the constitution.
But once again, they have been left bitterly disappointed. The fallout of the failure of the CA to carry out its responsibility will be clear in the days and weeks ahead. But a few things can be said for certain: the immediate post-CA climate is likely to be extremely fractious. Given the failure of the political actors across the board, it will also provide plenty of space for regressive forces.
Yet all´s not lost. Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, while addressing the country late Sunday night, announced that his government would conduct another CA polls on Nov 22. Bhattarai was right that after the failure of the political parties to draft the constitution by May 27 deadline, going for another CA polls was perhaps the only democratic way out. But if the country is to go for fresh CA polls, it is important that PM Bhattarai either widens the current coalition government to take all major forces on board, or make way for the formation of a new consensus government under another leadership.
That said, the political class should keep in mind that following their repeated failure to come up with the constitution in last four years, people´s trust in them is perhaps at an all-time low. The onus thus lies on political leadership to work towards regenerating the lost trust. The only way that can be achieved is by forging an atmosphere for consensus, the importance of which has further increased in the uncertain political climate following CA´s dissolution.
As we went to press Nepali Congress and CPN-UML were preparing to meet the president to express their disagreement at the government proposal to announce fresh elections, perhaps an indication of the likely political polarization in the days ahead. The biggest challenge for the parties would be to look to minimize this polarization. But make no mistake, it will be a tall order.
At this crucial juncture in the country´s history, it is important that all actors in the political process—the political parties, the civil society, the media, the business community, the government and the relevant non-government bodies, and indeed all the actors who want to see progressive transformation of Nepali state—to tread ahead with extreme caution. For the regressive forces that would want to destroy all achievements of post-2006 politics are sure to raise their ugly heads in the lead up to the Nov. 22 polls.
In the next few days, accusations and counteraccusations between political parties are sure to go up, as would be expected in the aftermath of an event of such sweeping consequences. But they should all keep in mind that none of them is above reproach for the failure of the CA. Only through honest evaluation of past mistakes will the political parties be able to gain a semblance of their lost credibility.
It is easy to descend into despondency in these testing times. But even as we rue the demise of CA, the accomplishments of post 2006 polity—the near successful completion of the peace process the biggest among them, the establishment of Maoists as a legitimate democratic force, the tremendous work in fleshing out the demands of the marginalized communities—should not be forgotten.
Now it is up to the democratic forces to try to thwart the elements that might look to reverse those gains. For instance, the radical faction of the Maoists has already expressed its serious reservation with the government decision to go for fresh CA polls. In the days ahead, it will leave no stone unturned, including exhorting the party base to its violent ways, to discredit the establishment faction. The armed outfits now operating in various parts of the country will also try to fish in dirty waters.
We cannot hide out disappointment at having to watch the CA, and all that it promised for the Nepali people, dissolve without completing its task. It should not have happened. But we are not despondent either. Despite all the hurdles ahead, we believe Nepal´s political situation can still be salvaged. Again, the immediate trajectory of Nepali politics is hard to predict, not the least because of considerable reservation from various quarters on another CA polls. It will be up to the discredited political class to convince people that they are willing to do the hard work to get the derailed political process back on track and draft an inclusive, federal and democratic constitution