After the political drama of the last four years, the Constituent Assembly still failed to promulgate a new constitution. In 2006 political leaders promised Nepali people a new constitution within two years. Instead, even after a wait of four long years, and after the government has spent over Rs 9 billion with bilateral donors contributing hundreds of millions more, there could be no statute. In the country’s history, it was the third time Nepali people were deceived by their leaders after being promised a new constitution through a constituent assembly.
In the aftermath of the 1950 ‘people’s revolution’, Nepali leaders proposed a constituent assembly to write a new democratic constitution. The politicians fought each other for eight years before King Mahendra announced parliamentary election, which was held in 1959. Similarly, political leaders demanded constituent assembly after the first ‘Jana Andolan’ in 1990. The CA election was never held. As a result, the Maoist conflict flared up, culminating in the party’s rise as the largest political force in CA election.
During the last four years, there were four different governments—two each under the leadership of the Maoists and the UML. All of them came with the commitment to complete the peace process and write a new democratic constitution of republican Nepal. What a shame that none of them could succeed!
The word constitution is derived from Latin verb constituere, meaning ‘to arrange or decide’. In a legal sense, a constitution is a set of fundamental principles and rules according to which a state is governed. In Nepal’s context, people wanted rights-based fundamental principles in the constitution, where rights of all (dalits to brahmins) are equally preserved, state is restructured, independence of judiciary ensured, along with the provisions of sovereign parliament and a mixed governing system.
But our leaders interpreted Nepalis’ needs according to their own interest, with each leader wanting a bigger piece of the new constitution pie. In the end, nobody got anything. Leaders betrayed Nepali peoples’ aspiration and their wish to live a healthy, quality life. It is another big reversal of Nepal’s economic development and prosperity.
The Supreme Court extended CA’s tenure four times and gave the constituent assembly enough time to write the new constitution. But they failed each time. Shame on Baburam Bhattarai and Subas Nemwang for their ineffective leadership. At the same time, Big Four (Prachanda, Sushil Koirala, Jhalanath Khanal and Bijaya Gachchadar) were equally responsible for the unexpected demise of the CA. Though each blames the other, history will never forgive them for their irresponsible behavior.
The constituent assembly failed because party leaders were more interested in securing their partisan interests than writing a constitution. Immediately following CA’s self-demise, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai made a unilateral announcement of next CA election in November. This announcement came from Baluwatar and not from the CA hall. It was neither discussed with other major political forces nor with the Speaker. It came with an intention to continue his government, which is an autocratic way of doing business in a democratic country.
President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav converted Baburam Bhattarai to a caretaker Prime Minister. But this is not enough. Bhattarai must resign on moral grounds. Earlier, he had promised that he would not remain Prime Minister for a single day if he failed to conclude the peace process and write the new constitution. Now, time has come to honor those words.
Blame game does not help anybody; and neither the country’s progress nor its development. Opposition parties must not further destabilize the country. They should stop street demonstrations and mass meetings. It will only derail country’s economy, keep people away from their jobs and cause the loss of their earnings, and keep students away from schools. People are looking for political normalcy and an end to confrontation and violence. They want to work and live peacefully. They want social justice.
According to Albert Einstein, “The strength of the constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defense are the constitutional rights secure”.
Some political parties have asked for reviving the CA for a short period. Lawyers and constitutional experts are divided in their interpretation. The reality is that the CA died its own death. Therefore, we should not waste time in reviving it. Moreover, CA has proven to be a “white elephant” for the country.
Political leaders, experts and civil society have been suggesting different way out of the current political crisis. In sum, the way forward could be as following:
First, Prime Minister Baburam Bhatarai recommends the President to dissolve his caretaker government in order to pave the way for a national caretaker government. Second, opposition political parties shun protest movements to build mutual confidence. Third, the president forms a consensus caretaker government, in consultation with political leaders, which shall be acceptable for all and supported by major stakeholders. A ‘technocrat government’ could also be an option.
Political leaders, experts and civil society have been suggesting different ways out. Here is my recommendation.
Fourth, the new government announces local body and national elections—local body within 3-6 months, and national election within 6-9 months. Fifth, the new government prepares the fiscal budget for 2069/70, which would come through the President’s Ordinance.
Sixth, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai immediately calls for a roundtable meeting of all the political parties of the demised CA. The purpose of this meeting should be to reach a common understanding for, i) holding local body and national elections in free, fair and peaceful manner, ii) decide the size and duration of local bodies and the parliament. (It may be noted that the ex-CA members had agreed to have 240 constituencies.), iii) ‘Decentralize Authority’ to local body for mobilizing resources locally, and plan and implement development activities, including basic infrastructure (Swiss model), which would help create jobs and alleviate poverty in rural areas, and iv) Authorize new government to present the annual budget.
Further, senior and ailing leaders should consider stepping down and handing over leadership to young generation. They must recognize their failure and weakness in leading the country.
The writer is the patron of the Non Residential Nepalese (NRN) Association