At the end of the September 16 deadline that the four main political forces had set for themselves to forge an agreement on the revival of Constituent Assembly, they seemed as far from an agreement as they were on the night of May 27, which led to the unceremonious dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. But instead of honoring their pledge to go for new CA polls in case there was no agreement on reinstatement by September 16, the parties have asked the president for some more time to arrive at an agreement on either of the two options (reinstatement or new CA polls) on the table. The ritual of the president summoning political leaders to press them for a breakthrough, and the political parties furnishing lame excuses and asking for some more time, is rather depressing for Nepalis who have watched in desperation as the same political leaders who could not honor their mandate to give the country a new constitution bicker endlessly, towards no discernible end.
In truth, a kind of consensus has been building on new polls even within NC and CPN-UML, which seemed to firmly favor reinstatement even a fortnight ago. This reason for this U-turn is clear: negotiations over the last three and a half months have yielded no fruit. In other words, they have come to realize how hard it is to overcome longstanding differences that led to the CA’s demise: If they could not settle outstanding issues in over four years, what makes them confident that the same political equation will yield a positive result in the near future? We see no option to new CA polls either. Rather than revive the CA and risk another confrontation with the judiciary, a safer and a more democratic route would be to go for new polls. Revival of old CA would raise serious questions over the democratic credentials of political parties that, instead of going for a new mandate when they have clearly failed in their old mandate, are mulling their own reappointment to the dead jumbo-constitutional body.
If the prime minister had resigned, it could have cleared the way for the formation of a consensus government. But the Bhattarai government seems to be in no mood to go just yet. In this case, there is no alternative to arriving at some sort of consensus on important constitutional questions, federalism most notably, and going for the new polls. Even if no such agreement is forthcoming, a compelling legal and political case can be made for new polls. Let the political parties obtain a new mandate on the basis of their electoral agenda.
With each passing day, the threat of open confrontation between the prime minister and the president is increasing, which could eventually lead to some unsavory, undemocratic outcome. Instead of waiting for this inevitable, it would be judicious to announce CA polls right away and work at amending the interim constitution for the purpose. This can be done through political consensus or if a date can be fixed for new CA polls, the old CA can be revived for a day to make the needed constitutional amendments. The sooner this is done, the better