Ever since the Constituent Assembly (CA) was prematurely terminated by Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and his coalition partners by outmaneuvering the opposition four and a half months ago, national politics has been derailed. Four long and precious years have been wasted and the new republic is without the much-awaited constitution. Such is the constitutional vacuum that the only elected constitutional organ that remains in place is the Office of the President. Political parties have locked horns on the path ahead—the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML are demanding an immediate departure of caretaker PM Bhattarai before substantive discussions on the path ahead, while the PM is firm that he will resign only if there is a comprehensive agreement between the parties.
Of late, owing to the constant exhortation from the President—who, it must be said, has acted most judiciously so far—that the parties must, without further delay, come to a consensus on outstanding issues and a date for the elections, political leaders have finally decided to hold substantive discussions without any preconditions so as to come to a complete understanding by the end of this month.
The revival of the CA for a limited period, provided there is complete agreement among the parties on major issues such as state restructuring and government structure, was discussed at great length for the whole of last month. Since no agreement could be reached on the contentious issues, the parties agreed to abandon the CA revival project and go for CA/parliament elections. Of course, for a general election, the scope and duration of new CA/parliament needs to be defined, the number of MPs must be settled, and the issue of electoral constituencies and the manner of electing/nominating MPs— through a mix of directly elected and proportional and inclusive representation—agreed upon.
Whether it is the complexity of the objectives, the specter of election, the aversion of the risk that the new CA/ parliament would suffer the same fate as the old one, or sheer will to cling to power for as long as possible, the UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has reopened the debate on CA revival, and has been peddling it with flair.
The CPN-UML has refused to fall for this bait and has officially clarified that it is opposed to CA revival and believes a fresh mandate from the people is the way forward. The majority of the NC leaders (District presidents and Central Committee members) have also strongly voiced their support for fresh polls and advised the party not to toe Dahal’s line. But the party, while preferring parliamentary elections, is also toying with the option of CA revival for a limited period, provided that the contentious issues can be resolved prior to such a revival. But it is becoming clear that it will not be possible to settle contentious issues beforehand and thus the reopening of the CA revival debate is futile, an utter waste of time and only aimed at prolonging the tenure of the Bhattarai government.
While our leaders have no qualms about engaging in fruitless debates ad nauseum, the nation is baying for help. We already face seven hours of daily load shedding in the rainy season; the situation in the winter will be even worse. Although the nation has declared 2012 as an investment year, it is likely to end up being more an investment holiday year since there has been little additional investment (both domestic and foreign) thus far. The level of production and productivity of existing industries, shackled by load shedding and labor unrests, are on the decline.
The only silver lining in the sky has been the agreement signed with the 3 Gorges Corporation of China for the construction of the 750 MW West Seti hydel project. Let us hope that this project does not suffer the same fate as the Arun 3 and the Upper Karnali, which have been crippled by lack of political will, bureaucratic bungling and acts of vandalism and hooliganism of unruly labor unions (while the hapless state has been reduced to the role of a silent spectator).
The ever-rising acts of impunity—propelled by acts like the government’s attempts to pardon a Maoist cadre convicted by Supreme Court on murder charges—lawlessness and insecurity coupled with rampant politically-backed corruption would have rendered Nepal a failed state; had it not been for the increased flow of remittance eked out by the blood and sweat of our brothers and sisters who are forced to leave the country in droves to support their families.
While our two giant neighbors make great economic progress buoyed by 8-10 percent per annum growth rates, our economy limps along at a niggardly 3-5 percent, largely because of the senseless 10 years of the so-called people’s war, weak governance and an overextended transition with no end in sight. Given our national strength of an honest, disciplined and dexterous work force—which is unique in South Asia—our immense agriculture possibilities, and our vast water resources and tourism potential, Nepal could easily become a prosperous state if only our political leadership worked in national interest with the ultimate goal of establishing peace, security and political stability.
Given Nepal’s demographics, its geography, its unique culture and communal harmony, no single party can dominate the constitution making exercise, especially over the matters of state restructuring and government structure. The solutions will have to be arrived at through political give and take. The political leaders need to abandon the idea of CA revival and to work tirelessly and selflessly to resolve the impasse by deciding to hold the election as early as possible. Towards this end, the parties need to finalize the scope of the CA/parliament and the substance and modalities of the election. It would also be wise to hold a referendum on the basis of state restructuring (single- or multiple-identity) and should the parties fail to agree on a consensus government, empower the president to form a non-political government to hold free and fair elections.