This newspaper has written an excellent editorial (PM step down, May 29) on what we ought to do in the aftermath of the CA’s dissolution. I agree with it totally except the part where it blames the Supreme Court for the dissolution. The SC was left with no choice by the government that included Maoists, Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Madhesi Morcha and a few others. The extension attempt was a deliberate effort to divert attention.
NC and UML, which are blaming Maoists and Madhesi parties for the failed extension detour, are as guilty. After all, it was NC’s Krishna Prasad Sitaula who signed the bill for extension to be registered with the parliamentary secretariat; and the CPN-UML was part of the government. They should have opposed it as soon as the matter was raised.
Let me point to a specific part of the above mentioned editorial. “…we need to start now to address the grievances of the marginalized communities and create an all-inclusive society where all the people—irrespective of their castes/ethnicity, religion, region and gender—get equal opportunities. And all this would be possible only through the drafting of a new constitution through a democratic process.” That is the key—a process that is not only democratic but also seen as one. The only possible way is to have a free, fair and credible election.
Lame-duck Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and his party UCPN (Maoist) are primarily responsible for the dissolution of the CA, but not for the reasons that are widely being talked about. On the basis of existing constitutional provisions, the care-taker Prime Minister had no role in the dissolution. The blame should be on the basis of what transpired throughout the day on May 27, the last day of the CA.
For most part of the day, the discussions among the political parties centred on the options once the CA got dissolved. This is not to suggest that federalism model to be included in the constitution was not discussed at all. Getting a wind of what was cooking, Janjati MPs from across party lines went to meet the leaders to say they would not insist on single ethnicity-based states and would accept multiple ethnicity basis. They urged for the constitution to be passed. But Madhesi Morcha which was in no mood to accept any compromise. Bhattarai supported that stance. The CA’s fate was largely decided right then.
NEFIN executives and activists also cannot absolve themselves of the adverse role they played which led to the CA dying without delivering a constitution. Their unflinching insistence on only a single ethnic identity, and no less, was a major hurdle in striking an agreement on federalism.
Not having a constitution in four years is a huge setback. There’s a feeling of disillusionment, anger and a sense of betrayal among people across the country. Social media is full of disparaging remarks against politicians and assembly members. Calls to ‘punish’ them, ban them from contesting any future election and a demand that they return the over Rs 9 billion (approximately US $110 million) that has been spent on the assembly since 2008 are getting louder. However, there are also some who are happy with the way things panned out. Among those are Bhattarai and his Madhesi party allies. The others who are happy are pro-monarchy groups and individuals who still fancy the monarchy’s return.
Could the Parliament have been saved? Could we have imposed a state of emergency as proposed by Maoist party Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and extended the CA? Or was it possible to pass a constitution with agreed contents and then have the contentious issue of federalism discussed by a ‘transformed’ parliament as suggested by most other parties like NC, UML, RJP and legal experts?
Since we are past that stage now, instead of asking these questions, it would be wise to decide how to move forward. We need elections for a Parliament with a regular term of five years. The new Parliament can double as constituent assembly for a limited period (say six months to a year to discuss and pass a constitution).
People have seen how the parties have conducted themselves these past four years. They also know which party stands where on the question of federalism, ethnicity-based or otherwise; so they can punish and reward them accordingly with their votes. Some experts here and in India are already singing the eulogy of the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML and how the ‘progressive’ parties will trounce them. I am not sure whether this would be the outcome and one needs to wait for people’s verdict.
But for all this, consensus among political parties is necessary. During his live address after the CA got dissolved, Bhattarai claimed that executive powers are vested in him and his cabinet. This is a false claim. He and what remains of his cabinet now exist only as caretakers. They can function only to the extent of running the government on a daily basis. This is because the interim constitution does not envision a scenario without a government. However, it cannot take any major decisions; announcing the election and its date fall in that category.
The Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML and others are right in challenging the legitimacy and authority of Bhattarai and demanding his resignation. But their moral high ground will ring hollow if they oppose election.
The all-important question now is given the lame-duck nature of the government, how do we proceed.
This is possible through Article 158 of the constitution—‘power to remove difficulties’—suggests constitutional expert Bhimarjun Acharya. The clause reads: “If any difficulty arises in connection with the implementation of this constitution, the council of ministers may issue necessary orders to remove such difficulties, and such orders require endorsement by the Legislature-Parliament or the constituent assembly within a month.” This is beyond a caretaker government’s brief, so we need consensus among political parties.
With the help of Clause 158, necessary orders and ordinances can be issued to amend concerned clauses to hold elections for a regular Parliament that would also double as a constituent assembly, and not the other way around. Given the experience of the past four years and for the stability of governance, we need a Parliament to which a government would be accountable. The contents of the constitution should not be allowed to be discussed among a few big politicians behind closed doors. Once the draft is ready, we should invite people’s opinion on it as per the existing provisions.
Other aspects that need endorsement or decision are the number of parliamentarians (we can set this at 310 as previously decided by the parties or even less than that number), and approval for electoral system. (The parties have already agreed on 55 percent through direct election and the rest via proportional representation.)
And of equal importance are efforts to have either an all-party government or a new caretaker government, just like in Bangladesh, to conduct the elections for a new Parliament. In Bangladesh, the caretaker government is headed by a chief advisor (usually Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), which conducts elections and governs until a new government is formed after the polls.
All our efforts now must be directed towards striking a consensus among parties and guaranteeing free, fair and credible elections since so much is at stake. This is not possible under the current lame-duck government which lacks legitimacy.