Resigning Would Be Running Away From My Responsibility
|| Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai took time off from his busy schedule and spent this weekend at a resort in Dhulikhel. Reading and writing was what he did for relaxation. In an interview with Republica’s Kosmos Biswokarma and Kiran Chapagain, PM Bhattarai seemed adamant that resigning from his position is not an option without the basis for the future understanding between the parties. But the interview started off with what he read during his quiet stay at Dhulikhel and what he derived from the books he read.
Did you read any particular book while in Dhulikhel?
I read books related to eastern philosophy and to the Mahabharat.
Did you draw any message useful to the present political situation from those readings?
The present transition needs to be managed properly. The transition has been prolonged after the failure to promulgate the constitution on May 27. The country may face a risk of being stagnant and plunging into a conflict. I have been pondering how the political leadership should move ahead and how the people should be kept united by addressing their aspirations in this situation.
It has been over four years the parties have been stressing on national consensus. The major political parties have announced to hit the street demanding your resignation. What is your reaction?
What you should understand is that there is no alternative to the present government under my leadership, that meets the provisions laid out in the Interim Constitution and the international practice. So everyone should think how much it will be in the best interest of the loktantra if the present government steps down, creating political and constitutional void.
But you have already become a caretaker prime minister?
There is no word as such ‘caretaker’ in the Interim Constitution. The word has been used only in spoken language. This government will continue to be the legitimate government until another legitimate body comes into existence as per the existing constitution and international practice because it was formed by the elected Legislature-Parliament and it was in the office at the time when the Constituent Assembly was dissolved. So it cannot be a democratic thinking to create a vacuum by pressing the government to step down. I urge political parties to give a thought to that situation as well. It is natural for political parties to make such a demand in a democracy. I have found that those political parties who have stood for state restructuring, and economic and social transformations have supported this government. But those political parties who failed to adopt new thinking on state restructuring and those who possess backward-looking thinking on economic and social transformation have become naturally dissatisfied [with this government].
You became prime minister last August with sole mission of completing the peace and constitution writing processes. Don’t you think that you lost moral ground to continue office in view of the fact that both the processes remained unfinished by May 27?
You should look at the efforts made for the peace and constitution and the achievements made after I became prime minister, rather than putting forth a moral question at me. The peace process, especially the integration of [the Maoist] army which is the most important part of the peace process and had remained largely stalled, was driven almost near to conclusion, though not concluded fully, during my prime ministership. You should not take it as a worthless achievement. We had almost completed constitution drafting process. Unfortunately, the process could not be completed due to some CPN-UML leaders who could not discard their traditional mindset, especially in regards to the issue of state restructuring. Consequently, the constitution writing process could not be completed though it was at the last stage.
I should not run away from the responsibility given by the constitution. The constitution has bestowed all the executive powers on the present government as it was in the office at the time of the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly.
You blamed NC and UML leaders for the failure to draft the new constitution. But it was your party that withdrew from an agreement reached among political parties on May 15.
We did not backtrack from the agreement. The agreement could not be endorsed [in the form of the constitution] from the Constituent Assembly as 320 members objected to it in writing.
But your party had backtracked from the agreement before the 320 members objected to it.
It was not possible in loktantra to push the agreement that was supposed to be endorsed by two-thirds majority members but was objected by majority members. There was a need to review the agreement by all the parties but the Nepali Congress and the UML were not ready. Consequently, the CA dissolved. Our party never withdrew from the agreement.
Before 320 CA members objected to the agreement, Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal asked Janajati leaders to take to the streets and exert pressure against the agreement. Don’t you think this was the point from where the parties started to mistrust each other in the aftermath of the agreement?
This is wrong. It is illogical as well. If the NC and UML CA members obeyed what Prachanda said, we would have invited them to join the Maoist party. The NC and UML leaders have old mindset and the Madhesi, Dalit and Janjati from their parties have risen to contest such mindset. The problem is not with the Maoist party, but with the NC and the UML. The present crisis is the result of the old and status-quoist mindset of the NC and the UML, especially with regard to state restructuring.
The pending bill to amend Article 64 could also be used to amend the Article 82 and thus create an alternative mechanism in the Constitution to complete the unfinished tasks of the constitution writing. Why were you and your party, especially the establishment faction, not ready to go for that option?
It was not possible to create a parliament through an indirect way in the context of the Supreme Court stalling the process of extending the term of the Constituent Assembly. We had discussed this option as well. But some members with legal background suggested us not to go for such an option, arguing the court might stay even such a move. Then the option was dropped.
Just ahead of the cabinet that announced the date of the election, you had called the leaders of NC and UML for a meeting at your office to discuss possible ways to save the CA. But you did not come out for the meeting until the election decision was made.
It is false. You should identify who obstructed constitution writing process. The talks broke down after NC and UML opposed caste-based federalism and the Madhesi and the Janjati vowed to reject the constitution without federalism. Then I had proposed imposition of a state of emergency to extend the term of the CA and had even told the leaders that I was ready to own all the discredit such a move would invite. But the NC and the UML leaders, except Sher Bahadur Deuba, opposed such move. It was already 10:30 pm then. In such a situation, I had only one option left—declaring the election.
It is true that I had talked with the leaders over phone before the cabinet to ask them whether there were any options left. It was not even possible to declare the state of emergency from procedural point of view as three to four procedural steps were to be completed before declaring the state of emergency. Then I consulted the attorney general and the law secretary in this regard though I got no clear cut answer from NC and UML. In this situation, there was no alternative to declaring the election.
You could have declared the election after consulting NC and UML even after the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly.
If the elections were not announced before the midnight [of May 27], it would have invited a constitutional controversy. There would have been a controversy over who should announce the election.
Then CA Chairman Subas Nembang had cautioned about the constitutional crisis the country could face if election were to be announced and had asked the leaders and you to amend the constitution before making such a move. Why did you not heed his advice?
That was wrong. I cannot divulge details in my capacity as the prime minister. History will evaluate the irresponsible role played by political leaders and the CA Chairman. Why was not the meeting of the CA called after consensus became elusive? We were supposed to go to Baneshwor straight from Baluwatar and had called CA chairman about this, but we were told that there might be violence in Baneshwor if we went there.
Was there any understanding on multi-identity-based federalism after the meeting with women, Dalits and Janjatis on May 27?
We had proposed mixed identity-based federalism but some UML leaders strongly opposed that there should be no caste-based federalism. Even Janjati leaders were ready to agree on mixed identity-based federalism.
Are you saddened by the demise of the Constituent Assembly?
I claim no one is as sad as I am over the dissolution of the CA. But this emotional thing has no meaning. It is fact recorded in the history that I played the main role in establishing the agenda of the Constituent Assembly in my party and the Nepali politics though my party helped establish the agenda in Nepali politics. So, perhaps, no one in Nepal is as sad as I was in Nepal over the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly.
Some have argued that the CA can be reinstated through political decision to complete the unfinished tasks of constitution writing.
In my opinion, such a move would not be appropriate as the Constituent Assembly was dissolved owing to wrong thinking of some leaders and lack of wisdom.
Though election is a democratic practice, many argue that time is not ripe to hold yet another CA election.
It is the parties and the people who hold election. If they create an environment for the election, it is possible.
The country cannot move ahead without consensus among political parties. Why not facilitate it by making way?
Constitutionally speaking, there is no alternative to this government. Will loktantra be strengthened by inviting political and constitutional crisis? Isn’t it my responsibility to safeguard loktantra and constitution at this critical juncture? Will it be an appropriate move to run away from the responsibility?
The Mohan Baidya faction of your party has floated the idea of completing the unfinished tasks of the constitution making through a roundtable meeting. What is your take on this issue?
This is an extra-constitutional process. I do not think time has come to give it a thought. Solution should be sought from within the constitution. Those friends [the Baidya faction leaders] do not like this process. It is natural for them to try to take this process out of the constitutional bounds. But I hope NC and the UML will chose the constitutional process, which is the election.
While NC, UML and the Baidya faction have been demanding for your resignation, you have been stressing on election. Why?
You have been raising the issue of my resignation with emphasis. Will it be beneficial to invite a constitutional crisis? You seem to be trying to imply that my resignation will solve the present crisis but it is wrong to ask questions with that intention. The main thing is to seek a solution that is in the best interest of loktantra and constitution. For this I have taken initiatives.
How hopeful are you that the initiatives bring results?
I am hopeful. There is no alternative to consensus.
You have been stressing on consensus and trying to make a point that consensus should not be forged in exchange for your resignation. Are we right?
Consensus should be acceptable to all. Consensus should not be conditional. I am ready to sit for talks but there should not be any precondition. I am ready to make sacrifices.
What do you mean by sacrifice?
Consensus should safeguard loktantra and achievements made to date. The sacrifice can be anything towards that end.
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