Jul 20, 2012

Himalayan perspectives on current politics in Nepal

By DIPD, July 19, 2012

Six major political parties of Nepal – UCPN-Maoist, Nepali Congress, Unified Marxist Leninist, Madhesi Rights Forum – Nepal, Madhesi Rights Forum – Democratic, and Tarai Madesh Democratic Party have been partnering with DIPD since February 2012 to strengthen their party organizations at the local level.  DIPD asked two representatives from different parties within our steering committee of six parties to present their perspectives on the current political situation in Nepal. The views presented are thoughts of individual party representatives partnering with DIPD. DIPD does not subscribe to any of those views.

How to break the political deadlock in Nepal?
Thoughts from Jeetendra Dev, General Secretary of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum- Democratic party
A new federal Democratic Republican constitution through an elected Constituent Assembly had been the much cherished dream of Nepalese people since many years. Finally, the dream of the Constituent Assembly (CA) materialized after a long and relentless struggle by the Nepalese people which also saw huge loss of lives including many casualties and destruction of physical infrastructures.  Unfortunately, the Assembly on which many Nepalese had pinned great hopes, could not deliver the new constitution and its’ tenure was expired at the mid-night of 27 May 2012. Since dissolution of the CA, the political process has been almost stagnant, motionless and deadlocked (despite declaration of a new Constituent Assembly elections on 22 November 2012)

Why did the constituent assembly dissolved? Who and what factors were responsible for this unpopular, painful and unexpected incident?
The Interim Constitution had originally stipulated the tenure of the Constituent Assembly for two years. However, three extensions were made through constitution Amendments. Even after three extensions, the new constitution could not be finalized. The first extension was endorsed by the Supreme Court as a constitutional step. The second extension was also legitimatized on the basis of a ‘doctrine of necessity’. The third extension was also endorsed by the Supreme Court but the Court warned: ‘… it was a last extension and the CA could not be further extended.  The Supreme Court also categorically directed that if the new constitution was not finalized within the deadline set by the third extension, three options should be considered. One, holding referendum on contentious issues; two, holding fresh election for a new Constituent Assembly; and three, opting for any other constitutional arrangement.

What were the issues contentious among the political parties?
First ─ state restructuring, second ─ forms of government, third─ electoral system, fourth ─ system and structure of judiciary, and fifth ─ issue of citizenship. Among five contentious issues, four were almost resolved. Till the last moment state restructuring was the only and major bone of contention. Essentially, the number, name and boundaries of the federal units formed the core of contentious issues.

The state restructuring and power allocation committee (a thematic Committee inside the Constituent Assembly) had formally provided two main fundamental bases for state restructuring ─ the identity and viability. Identity was defined as ethnicity, language, culture, common history, continuity of geography and common psychology. Viability was defined as overall economic strength, natural resources, strength of revenue, state of infrastructure and state of administrative delivery.

Up to the mid-night of 27 May, major political parties could not forge unity on state restructuring. Basically the Nepali Congress party and Unified Marxist Leninist did not agree to the views and proposal provided by the state re-structuring committee inside the CA. They neither supported the fourteen provinces proposal of the committee nor supported ten province proposal recommended by the high-level State Restructuring Commission. Most importantly, these two parties did not allow voting on the issue which should have been the obvious process in the democratic framework (when decisions could not be reached through political consensus).

In this context, Maoist party and the United Democratic Madhesi Front (an alliance of Madhesh-based parties which are in the present coalition government led by the Maoists) had limited options to save the Constituent Assembly in the new form and avoid the vicious-circle-typed prolonged confrontation among the political parties. So, these two political forces consented to go for the new elections to the Constituent Assembly. Accordingly, the government declared 22 November 2012 as a date for the new elections. It is also important to note that at this moment, there was no possibility of extension due to the Supreme Court’s decision to reject government’s proposal for the extension. On this special, complicated and challenging political circumstance, the government also did not opt for declaring a state of emergency as a tool for the extension of the Constituent Assembly.

Present Political Deadlock
Since 27 May, there has been allegations and counter-allegation among the major political forces. The opposition parties, mainly Congress and Unified Marxist Leninist have been demanding resignation of the prime minister as a pre-condition for resolving the political deadlock. Constitutionally there is no provision to dislodge the present Prime minister from the post. As there is no Constituent Assembly, this government is an election government.

The major opposition parties have been instigating the president to take action against the PM. This kind of short-sighted unconstitutional and undemocratic move will throw the country into permanent conflict and chaos and could invite a dictatorial regime. So, how to break the stalemate or deadlock is a major challenge that Nepal faces today.

How to break the deadlock?
First, we should recall the essence of the five-point agreement which was signed by the major political parties before the sad demise of Constituent Assembly. The essence was that the Maoist leadership will continue up to the final drafting of the new constitution and endorsement of that final draft by the Constituent Assembly after which the Nepali Congress would takeover and promulgate the Constitution in its primeministership. However, when there is no CA or a final draft of the Constitution, how can the prime minister resign? However, opposition parties have only one point agenda; that is the resignation of the prime minister. In this political stalemate, what might be the way out for future?

To find out any kind of solution to the present political crisis, three things are essential to address. One, contentious issues of constitution. Two, procedure of modality to promulgate the constitution, and three,  power sharing. It means political consensus is needed on contentious issues, modality of declaring new constitution and new power sharing.

In terms of contentious issues, state restructuring is the core issue. If there is no change in mind-set and position of parties; solution will not come. Only option to break the present deadlock would be a new election to the Constituent Assembly. This will ensure a new power equation. Also, elections are the soul and brain of democracy through which people exercise their will and preference.

Some forces are talking about reinstatement of CA as well. But it would be meaningless and unproductive without having prior consensus on contentious issues; and for this purpose positive response from the Supreme Court is also essential. If there is concrete consensus on core contentious issues then CA could be reinstated for limited days. If there is sincere consensus and agreement on issues then new power-sharing basis including the change of guard of the government should also be discussed. Simply the agenda of prime minister’s resignation without forging consensus on contentious issues and modalities should not or would not be entertained. Simply resignation would not break the deadlock it would rather complicate and deepen it.

So, finally the best solution to end the present deadlock is a new election under the present prime minister.  For this, all major opposition parties should be brought into the present government with due respect and representation. If agreement would be made on core issues, reinstatement of CA might be also a quick way out.

Jeetendra Dev has been involved in the democratic movement of Nepal since 20 years and was also a member of the Unified Marxist Leninist. Post-Constituent Assembly elections, he joined MJF-Democratic.

Nepali Congress’s perspective on the current political scenario
Observation from Binod Bhattarai
Nepali Congress party is a social democratic party with special focus on social justice of deprived, underprivileged and indigenous people of the country. It is an active member of Socialist International. Nepali Congress believes in pluralistic democracy and is firmly committed to human rights and rule of law, and believes that sovereignty lies with the people and they are the source of state power. ‘Nationality, democracy and socialism’ has been the motto of the Nepali Congress. The Nepali Congress has played crucial roles in all democratic struggles of Nepal by leading three successful democratic movements in 1950, 1990 and 2006 respectively.

Nepali Congress expresses sadness on the expiry of the Constituent Assembly’s tenure without adopting the constitution. Our party stressed on broader political consensus among parties to take forward the statute and the course of the peace process in the country. It also emphasized the need of consensus to resolve the present crisis in the country and also pointed that the ruling Maoist party and particularly Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s stubbornness was an obstacle in reaching consensus.

Nepali Congress thought that Prime Minister’s intention is to cling on to power as long as possible. A majority of Nepali Congress leaders termed the unilateral announcement of elections for a new constituent Assembly a ‘Political Coup’. The NC leaders concluded that Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s move to call for polls was unconstitutional.

Central Working Committee members of the party urged the party leadership to launch a massive movement to protest the government’s ‘unconstitutional’ decision to declare fresh elections for Constituent Assembly. The NC protest will carry two agendas – exposing the Maoist party’s ill intention behind declaring a new Constituent Assembly polls and pressurizing the Maoists for national consensus government and correct the government’s unconstitutional move.

NC party was serious about sensitive issue like economy and the private sector’s role for the economic growth. However, there is no alternative to political consensus. Nepali Congress also said that the government should bring a special budget for regular expenses only and it is time for dialogue for a consensus so that the constitution can be framed by addressing the contentious issues.

Courtesy: Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy (DIPD)

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