Amidst hours of power-cut, parched water taps, soaring market prices and muddy roads in Nepal, promulgating a functional constitution is still by far the foremost priority. For the country, having experimented with six different constitutions in as many decades, drafting another one shouldn’t have been a problem. What makes the task look so arduous now is all that has been piled up in the last four years in the form of unfulfilled promises, a failed Constituent Assembly (CA) and an array of wasted resources.
There are three primary arguments dominant in explaining this national fiasco. According to the first, the battle in the CA was between two political ideologies, so poles apart that bringing them together through a compromise constitution was always going to be impossible. One side represented the radical Maoist line of thought, and the other was not ready to concede on the universal principles of democracy. They had been sweating to write a constitution without agreeing on the basic constitutional principles.
The second argument suggests that the constitution-writing process had almost been completed. The problem was never about the principles of democracy but the ways to articulate them so as to control the whole narrative. Its showdown culminated in the ruptured eleventh-hour discourse on federalism, and as its offshoot, in a panicky national mood.
The third logic dismisses the entire political process itself, claiming that it was designed so as to consistently giving the Maoists the benefit of doubt, thus leading the CA into becoming a hostage of radical agendas under the shadow of guerilla cantonments.
Looking back, the CA process painfully ignored the four axioms of constitution writing. A constitution has to mediate the contemporary balance of political power. It should reflect the aspirations of the people communicated through a most recent political change. It must also honor the principles acknowledged in the community of nations. And, it has to have the capacity to hold the social fault-lines together, ensuring measures of non-discrimination and equality.
Turning Nepal’s failed constitutional project around on its head should help us accept the fact that a constitution cannot be written disregarding any of these simple facts. No democratic constitution in the world has been ever written with an objective of giving the louder section of politics an edge over the silent ones.
Compromises reached seven years ago and the political equations of that time are now inappropriate for the new constitution. The average period to institutionalize the transformation envisaged by a political movement through a new constitution is three years. What held true sometimes ago may not hold true after a long gap and this is why fresh elections are a necessity.
CPN-UML, at the cost of its own unity, now seems to have gathered a picture of how things would possibly move in the days ahead. Contrary to its image of being reactive, the party’s standing committee this time took a decision to welcome new elections, as did Upendra Yadav.
In this monsoon of charting out strategies towards what appears to be a turbulent fall, the decisions of these two parties have put the opposition on the top their game, rightly building pressure on Nepali Congress to speak up. Otherwise, the ruling coalition had almost shunted the opposition out by creating a simulated narrative of them running away from elections.
If we ask how the CA elections are different from the one for Parliament (that would also be mandated to work as the CA for a few months), one would perhaps answer that the CA elections polarize the society along caste and ethnic lines, while parliamentary elections bring much coveted stability for Nepal. In both cases, it is the representatives of the people calling the shots, thus nullifying the Maoist claim that a parliamentary election would not be a solution.
Sticking to consensual elections to be held under a unity government, the opposition parties would deviate from their acute Singha Durbar syndrome. The prime minister holding on to power no longer seems like a threat to the opposition since the PM hasn’t done any good for his party, or for himself. BIPPA and army integration – that he touts as his major achievements, are despised more in his party than in the opposition ranks. The narrative of change associated with his name has evaporated. Having broken previous records of jumbo cabinets, corruption, and doling out amenities to the ex-VIPs, he has sadly made governance under Deuba, Nepal and Khanal look far better.
Going blindly into CA elections, as the government wants, leaves the parties plenty of issues to bicker about, further aggravating the social hostilities.
The grimmest of the dilemma before UCPN (Maoist) is, however, the number of shrinking alternatives the party is left with. It needs to architect new stories to sell army integration; either using negative motivation of threats to court opposition parties, or buying-in the combatants to make them retire. Its coalition partners are slowly becoming fragmented. Most importantly, the support of the southern neighbor is not for the party but for PM Bhattarai, which is destined to be transitory. Only respite may come from a looming division in UML as its Janajati leaders are poised to form a new party.
And Chairman Prachanda is at the receiving end of all of this. Having deeply measured India’s circumspection during his multiple trips from Siliguri to Singapore over the last years, the chairman has removed phrases like “People’s War” and “national independence” from his seventh plenum document. It is a huge compromise and expecting reciprocity in lieu would not have been a great demand. Mr. T. Hormis, former RAW chief, has responded positively through his recent article published in The Indian Express (Standstill in Kathmandu: July 25, 2012).
Under these circumstances, before coming to an agreement on new elections with the opposition parties, the UCPN (Maoist) will try to sulk, moan, threaten, implore and pretend to get irked. It will use every trick from the red book to weather the storm.
Going blindly into the CA elections, as the government had wished for, leaves the parties with plenty of issues to bicker about. This increases chances of election-time rhetoric that will further aggravate social hostilities. Worsening social strife would only prove to be the last straw in the transitional state that has shown enough symptoms of sinking deep into a likely tussle between Singha Durbar and Shital Niwas, emptying constitutional bodies, forgotten local governments, and above all, the gross absence of accountability.
Taking this chain of event into account, there is only one secure trail the political parties can follow: an all party government under NC that helps develop a common position on multiple political issues, eventually leading into the general election within a year. This is also the cleanest roadmap to the constitution.