|| Negotiations over contentious issues in the new constitution have entered their last leg. As we went to press, there seemed to be agreements on all important issues among major parties except on state restructuring. Speaker Subas Chandra Nembang has called for next CA meeting for April 26, before which, it is hoped, all major issues would have been settled. In this context Thira L Bhusal and Biswas Baral talked to Nembang on the possibility of a constitution by May 27 and the state of ongoing negotiations.
Can you give us an overview of the state of constitutional process right now?
As of today, political parties have been trying to sort out the issues in the Constitutional Committee´s sub-committee for dispute resolution, both through formal and informal meetings. The next CA meeting has been called for April 26. Political parties have assured they will sort out the issues before that.
There is very little time left. Will the CA be able to follow through on its timetable in the remaining time?
What we have to keep in mind is that even after the last six-month extension of CA, peace process and constitution making were linked. The major parties were adamant that the peace process be completed before entering negotiations on constitution. This poisoned the atmosphere for negotiations. Thus, for the most of last six months, the constitution making process was completely blocked.
In this situation, I have been telling parties we could follow procedures under article 70 of the Interim Constitution. A shorter method has to be adopted as there is no alternative to coming up with the constitution by May 27. When there is an agreement, the CC has to prepare an integrated draft. We have been discussing about how this should be done. The CC has already instructed the CA secretariat to carry on ancillary work on constitution. Various constitutional and legal experts have also been helping with this process. The CA secretariat is ready. Once there are policy-level agreements among parties, they can be implemented without ado.
There is a big concern among the people that they might not get enough time to deliberate on and make suggestions on draft constitution.
We will take the draft constitution before the people for discussions. No doubt, the larger the number of people we can take the draft to, the more inclusive the final constitution will be. We have planned with a view to taking the draft to the people and getting CA members to visit all 75 districts. So far as the limited time for discussion among the public is concerned, I believe the political parties will be able to sort things out pretty soon so that the time for public discussion can be prolonged.
Another common concern is that instead of making the constitution making process truly inclusive, all the major issues are being settled behind closed doors.
Since political parties have not been able to come to agreements on time, even our previous work carried out through consultations with the common people has been overshadowed. Throughout the constitution making exercise, we have tried to reach the maximum number of people. The rest of the world has praised this inclusive approach. So far as collecting suggestions from people both at personal and institutional levels is concerned, I am receiving suggestions even today. Every day, we get at least four or five such recommendations. Besides this, we want to take the final draft to the people. Thus it is not that there have been no efforts to include suggestions of common folks. But we are also concerned that the process of collecting suggestions on the final draft might be hampered if the window of available time continues to shrink.
There have also been allegations against you that you have failed to take up vital debate in the CA and instead relied on top leaders to settle issues inside closed doors.
I think there is a lack of understanding here. The 601-member CA cannot as a single entity take up the whole task of constitution making at one time. This is the reason we divided the CA into various committees which subsequently carried out their respective duties. After a certain point, the whole responsibility for the constitution came to the Constitutional Committee. If we had been able to hammer out needed compromises on time, this question would never have been raised. But as the political parties have failed to come to agreements and these issues remained with the Constitutional Committee for a long time, it might seem the CA members not in the CC have been left out. I believe these debates rise because of the failure to understand the constitutional process and work division among CA members.
Without a broad-based agreement, we might get a draft constitution in the next few days, but it will then be a tall order to clear contentious provisions with two-third majority in CA.
Still, people seem to have reservation with the process of settling constitutional disputes among top party leaders, many of them unelected, rather by their elected representatives in the CA.
We believe in a party-based democracy. That is why we conducted the CA polls on party basis. Even in our documents, we have provisioned for the political process to be taken ahead on party basis. Since the process has to be settled at the political level, it is natural that top leaders are involved in vital discussions. If we are saying that issues which cannot be settled at top political level can be settled through discussions at lower levels, such expectations are unrealistic. We must understand this situation. At the same time, it is also important that political leaders involved in negotiations also do not undermine the integrity and norms of CA.
With only a month to go for the expiry of CA deadline, there are speculations that we will, at best, only be able to get a draft constitution by May 27.
On May 27, there must be a complete constitution, not just a draft. There is no alternative to this. The Interim Constitution provisions for promulgation of new constitution by the Constitution Assembly in order to consolidate the gains of all pro-democratic movements in the country´s history. The Interim Constitution does not envision a situation where there will be no constitution. Let me reiterate that there is no alternative to the CA promulgating a complete constitution May 27. The political parties must negotiate with this goal in mind.
What if there are agreements on major issues but some minor issues are yet to be settled by May 27. Is a limited extension of CA term possible in that case?
Look, I am very clear on this. We shouldn´t even think about another CA term extension.
One day, we hear that agreements have been reached on important issues but the very next day we hear political leaders say that there have been no agreements. In this context, how hopeful are you that the country will have a complete constitution by May-end?
What we have to keep in mind is that there was considerable mistrust among the political parties as the peace process failed to make any headway. But with the process now nearly complete, this distrust has been considerably reduced. In this situation, there is no alternative for the parties but to promulgate the constitution on time. With the peace process nearly over, they have no excuse not to bring out the constitution on time.
What happens if there is no agreement on May 27? Will you go for voting in the CA?
I don´t foresee such an eventuality. Yes, there might be voting on small issues even while the major ones have been settled. But the political parties have told me that by that time there will be no disagreements on major issues. The goal is to prevent voting on important issues. Without a broad-based agreement, we might still get a draft constitution in the next few days, but it will be a tall order to clear contentious provisions with the required two-third majority in the CA. There can be no such majority without the main political blocks standing on the same platform.
The time for taking the draft constitution to the people has been significantly curtailed. Doesn´t that undermine the constitution´s legitimacy?
I don´t think questions will be raised on the constitutionality of such a document. Still, I believe that the document should be taken to as wide a population as possible. We aim to take it to the people through national gazette and various media outlets to make people feel ownership of the document.