United we stand

  • A national unity government is looking like the only real alternative to facilitating the constitution-drafting process
United we stand

Aug 18, 2014-

Recent progress in the working of the Constituent Assembly (CA) has sparked hope that the new constitution will be promulgated within the next six months, institutionalising nascent federalism, republicanism and secularism. Back-channel negotiations among the major parties, tasks completed by the CA’s committees and their reaching out to concerned stakeholders have all furthered the impression that the parties are finally serious about completing a new constitution.

People are keenly waiting to see how the parties will settle outstanding issues of the new constitution—federalism, forms of governance, electoral system and the judiciary—which led to the dissolution of the previous CA. The top leaders of the major political forces now shoulder the responsibility of working in unison to resolve these issues and deliver a new constitution within the timeframe committed to during the election.

All is not well

Still, there is a need for continuing talks among the parties to make things happen and the government needs to play a leading role in this regard. On the part of the CA, tasks are moving ahead in a positive direction but there are concerns about the government’s performance. The Sushil Koirala government has failed to hold talks with key stakeholders, especially the CPN-Maoist, to create an environment appropriate to the writing of the constitution, as directed by the CA committees. The government’s indifference to implementing past agreements reached with various parties and outfits is another example of its inefficiency. It is clear that due to his failing health, PM Koirala has not been able to accord the time and effort required to facilitate the statute-drafting process.

The PM himself is trying to provide the impression that all is well but this is difficult to believe. As constitution drafting gathers momentum, we need a more proactive prime minister, more so because he also leads the largest party in the CA. This is no ordinary government and it needs to take extraordinary steps to facilitate the constitution-drafting process. And yet, there has been little improvement in the government’s performance and working style. Instead, PM Koirala will once again be departing for the US for a follow-up treatment.

Even the UML, the Nepali Congress-led government’s coalition partner, is in a difficult position. Withdrawing support for the government would put the constitution-drafting process in jeopardy. But at the same time, there is growing dissatisfaction inside the party over the government’s performance.

National unity

Certainly, we need a strong, united and accommodative government to facilitate the constitution-drafting process. But a change in government would be even more detrimental to constitution drafting. The only option left is to convert the current majority government into a national unity one.

It has become quite clear that parties and various interest groups will not be satisfied even when all key issues are resolved. There could be unrest at anytime. Remember the street protests that erupted soon after the May 15, 2012 agreement among major forces on key issues of the new constitution. Due to the vehement protests, the cross-party agreement went unimplemented, leading ultimately to the dissolution of the CA. Even now, otherwise responsible parties in opposition might be tempted to provoke such groups if they feel that their demands have not been met. Then, only a unity government will be able to take the situation under control.

Therefore, the NC, primarily Prime Minister Koirala, should take prompt steps to bring more parties onboard and form a national unity government. At the very least, the UCPN (Maoist), the Madhes-based parties and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal should join the government. The UML too should press both the NC and the opposition parties to form a national unity government as soon as possible.

If all these parties are inducted into government, it will be even easier to complete writing the constitution with a full House on board as well as at the committee levels. All parliamentary processes will move ahead unhindered after the formation of a unity government. The UCPN (Maoist), which was not in favour of joining government soon after the election, now seems ready to do so  if it will help ease constitution drafting. The Madhes-based parties are also ready to join the government under the condition of drafting a new constitution.

Trust and credit

Currently, there is a trust deficit between the ruling and opposition parties. The UCPN (Maoist) made an alliance with five Madhes-based parties and four smaller Maoist parties after some NC and UML leaders warned of settling unresolved contentious issues through a vote. Similarly, the NC and UML are sceptical about UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s commitment to peace and the constitution since his alliance with the CPN-Maoist, which has entirely opposed the ongoing political process. A unity government could help create an environment of trust and maintain cordial relations between the ruling and opposition parties.

Questions of credit and ownership will also inevitably arise while drafting a new constitution. No doubt, all parties will want to take credit for writing the constitution. Currently, the Maoists and the Madhes-based parties believe that due to their relatively smaller size in the CA, the credit for drafting a new constitution will all go to the NC and UML, the largest parties in the CA. Looking at past examples, after the dissolution of the government in 2009, the Maoists agreed to the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants only after the formation of the Baburam Bhattarai-led government. Now, all credit goes to Bhattarai for completing the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants.  

So given the progress made, parties need to seriously think on the formation of a unity government to facilitate the constitution-drafting process. If the parties are really serious about promulgating a new constitution within the self-imposed deadline, there is no reason to shy away from forming a national unity government. PM Koirala must immediately begin homework towards this end.

Bhattarai is with the political desk at the Post

Published: 19-08-2014 09:26

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