With power, comes responsibility

  • The NC, as the largest party in the CA, must take the lead in reaching out to parties on contentious issues
- KAMAL DEV BHATTARAI
With power, comes responsibility

Jul 21, 2014-

After keeping up an encouraging pace for nearly two months, the constitution-drafting process has now slowed. The reason: top leaders of major political parties do not have time to deliberate on contentious issues; they are busy with intra-party issues.

The Constituent Assembly (CA) has forwarded contentious issues of the new constitution to the Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee (PDCC), along with suggestions from CA members. According to the CA calendar, it is now up to the top political leaders in the PDCC to settle contentious issues and present them to the full House for approval.

The PDCC, a powerful CA committee that includes the top party leaders, was formed to take a final call on disputed issues that led to the dissolution of the previous CA. But even though the parties do not have any pressing intra-party business to attend to, especially since the completion of the CPN-UML’s 9th National Convention, there is little sense of urgency in our leaders. Instead, party leaders seem stymied by middling internal issues, which could very well delay the February deadline of promulgating the new constitution.

Heavy is the head

The Nepali Congress (NC), the largest party in the CA, must shoulder greater responsibility for the lack of progress. NC must take leadership of the overall political process to ensure that a new constitution is delivered within the stipulated time. But, the government’s disappointing performance in the last five months, especially in governance, has cast doubts on whether the NC will be able to hold the reins of the constitution-drafting process during critical junctures. This does not bode well, as it was the failure of the UCPN (Maoist) to take strong leadership of the constitution-drafting process that led to the dissolution of the previous CA.

Though he left for the US for a medical procedure, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, who is also NC President, is responsible for the lethargy. Koirala, of course, must attend to his ill-health but as executive head, he cannot hold the country hostage to indecision. If he is not in a position to invest the considerable time and energy required by the constitution-drafting process due to his poor health, Koirala should hand over responsibility to NC Vice-president Ram Chandra Poudel and senior NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba. Before leaving for the US, Koirala should have instructed party leaders and Acting Prime Minister Bam Dev Gautam to appoint the still-outstanding 26 lawmakers and other necessary appointments. The nation cannot wait for an ailing PM to take decisions related to constitution drafting or the bureaucracy.

Koirala is hesitant to appoint Poudel acting party president and also to provide political clout to Deuba in negotiating with other parties. A full mandate from party President Koirala could have led to Poudel and Deuba steering the overall political process, bringing all parties inside and outside the CA on board the constitution-drafting process. Still, it is not too late. PM Koirala can act as a guardian of the overall political process, delegating responsibilities to Deuba and Poudel, who should work together to conclude constitution drafting by putting aside their differences.  

Reaching out

It is also essential that NC leaders reach out to other party leaders, besides those from the UML. Some NC and UML leaders have been arguing that there is no need for serious talks as this time, there is a provision to settle contentious issues through a vote. In terms of number, the NC-UML coalition command a two-thirds majority required to endorse provisions in the constitution. However, to choose this route would be dangerous and hubristic. It could even lead to another round of conflict in the country. The new constitution should be drafted by taking the Maoists, Madhesis, Janajati and all other stakeholders into confidence. This is only possible if the NC assumes leadership.

There have been attempts to project the NC and UML as anti-federal, anti-Madhes and anti-ethnic parties. Taking a strong role in statue drafting, the ruling parties should work to give the impression that there is no need for protest as the new constitution will incorporate all of their justifiable demands. The NC and UML should reach out to the grassroots level and seek out the agendas of oppressed and marginalised communities to incorporate them into the new constitution.  

However, the immediate responsibility of the NC is to keep the coalition intact. Till now, the coalition partner UML does not seem to have given a thought to any change in government. It seems committed to continue with the incumbent government until February. But dissatisfaction is boiling inside the party about the performance of the NC-led government. The government’s failure to implement past agreements, its delay in appointing the 26 lawmakers and the NC’s interference in the functioning of ministries led by the UML is creating friction between the two parties. Only with the full support and strong backing of the UML, can the NC take leadership of the constitution-drafting process.

The longer the delay in constitution drafting, the more space it will provide to radical agendas. Some radical ethnic groups and Madhes-based parties are already preparing to launch a movement demanding that their agendas be incorporated in the constitution- drafting process. The NC should preempt such movements by convincing them that their agendas will be duly addressed.

This responsibility figures more on the NC than PDCC Chairman Baburam Bhattarai as his leadership cannot yield immediate and positive results due to various factors. First, he lacks the complete support of his Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who seems to be gradually coming to the conclusion that a new constitution cannot revive his former stature in Nepali politics. As PDCC chairman, Bhattarai has already begun talks with top leaders of major parties on contentious issues but there has not been any progress. Second, the NC and UML are not ready to give credit to Bhattarai so they are hesitant to cooperate with Bhattarai’s attempts to hold discussion on contentious issues.

Dispelling suspicions

The PDCC, in any case, is just an official platform. Agreements on disputed issues is possible only if the largest party holds a series of serious discussions, both formal and informal, with major main parties in the CA, including the the UCPN(Maoist) and Madhes-based parties.

The relation between the ruling and opposition parties is marred by suspicion and the trust deficit is increasing every day. The UCPN (Maoist) and Madhes-based parties have forged an alliance concluding that NC and UML could backtrack from the past agreements. These parties fear that the ruling coalition might bypass them while drafting a new constitution due to the latter’s numerical strength. The NC and UML, on the other hand, assume that the Maoists and Madhesis have allied themselves to press radical agendas and that they are not committed to a new constitution.

The only way to dispel these suspicions would be to engage in a mutual dialogue on key issues and find a common point of agreement. It is here that the NC’s leadership is needed.

Bhattarai is with the political desk at the Post

Published: 22-07-2014 09:03

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