Print Edition - 2014-12-28  |  Free the Words

Not again

  • We should not let CA members extend the deadline for promulgating the constitution at any cost
- RAJENDRA SENCHUREY
Not again

Dec 27, 2014-

Dear fellow citizens,

The prolonged constitutional impasse has pushed the country towards greater uncertainty. Contestations among the political parties, with their interminable incompatibilities and nagging demands, are the main reasons why we have been stuck in limbo for six years. Let’s stand up to escape this lawlessness.

The Constituent Assembly (CA), coveted since 1950, only became a reality for us in 2008. We chose a team of 601 to write the new constitution. They solicited extensions of the deadline four times by taking an oath to produce the document within a year. Instead of concentrating all their efforts to discuss and draft the new statute, they incessantly quarreled and wasted time by frequently changing government. Yet, hoping to raise the national flag at midnight, many of us eagerly waited outside the gates of the CA Hall until 23:59 pm of May 27, 2012. To make things more dramatic, lawmakers put off dissolving the dissolution of the CA until the last moment.  We, the people, were naturally agonised.

Other than the thorniest issues, like federalism and form of government, much work on the constitution had been completed by the first CA. So, the government then chose to elect new lawmakers, who would uphold the tasks of the first. The four unproductive years of the CA spent approximately Rs 9 billion and made empty promises of paying tributes to the victims of decade-long Maoist insurgency, the Madhes Andolan, and Janaandolan II. And when the November 2013 elections were held for the new CA, a 33-party alliance led by the CPN-Maoist boycotted the polls. Lawmakers who only made empty promises but did not deliver lost their seats. Almost 84 percent of victors in the new CA polls were not there in the old one. Even some veterans were given a chance to join the second CA, the

people had felt their void in the first.

Late start

Owing to the pledges made in election manifestos across party lines during election campaigns, the voters assumed that the drafting of a constitution would restart immediately after the elections. But it took leaders three months to even take the first step. Many things have not transpired the way people expected. The CA Calendar mandated CA members to clear all disputes by September and present the first draft by mid-October to the people for discussion. They failed to do both. The way things have transpired is exactly along the line of cynical forecasts and presumptions made at the beginning of this year. As January 22 draws close, it is increasingly becoming clear that the deadline will not be met. Still, top party leaders of the ruling coalition and the opposition have not yet realised that missing the deadline will not only destabilise the government but also prolong instablity. If the second CA fails to meet the deadline this time as well, Nepal could be a ‘failed state’.

The current circumstances are difficult, no doubt. We have elected a CA that is a mix of royalists to republicans, rightists to leftists, secularists to religious extremists, federalists to unitarians, hostiles to irenics, and corrupt to scrupulous politicians. And the reason for constitutional deadlock ranges from internal feuds to inter-party strife. Amidst the reluctance of political parties to accept the coexistence of the nature and agendas of others, pessimism is gradually taking over. At this critical moment, should we—civil society members, the media, artists, human rights activists, students, bureaucrats, and all responsible citizens—patiently await the morning of January 23, 2015 to see if the second CA is also dead or not and thereafter, engage in a blame-game?

In March, the CA adopted many agreements made during the first Assembly. Now, there only remain a few knottier issues in which there have been disagreements since the start. Multiple discussions have been held on constitutional discussions and by now, every party knows the stance of the other, the best alternative to a negotiated agreement, and the bottom lines. To indeed promulgate a constitution in time, rather than trying to adjust others in one’s framework, it is indispensible for parties to try fitting themselves in others’ model as well. Until then, the deadlock will continue. Every party should work to clear obstructions and find common ground, as we are now fed up with the wanton use of the word sahamati (consensus). Leaders need to meet, talk, dialogue, quarrel, debate, and yet, resolve their disagreements on contentious issues before it is too late. And this is possible only when they think out-of-the-box and transcend from dogmatism

to temperance.

Put on the pressure

Now is the time for Nepalis people to force political parties and CA members to promulgate the constitution by January 22. We should not needlessly wait for the deadline, as on the earlier occasion. It was a blunder on our part to believe that something which had not happened in 730-odd days would materialise in the last one day of the CA. It’s time to ask ourselves whether we have waited too long for things to make headway this time too.

Putting off things till the last moment is a Nepali habit. During the last days of the first CA, the President was seemingly very active on forging consensus among parties. He also needs to take proactive steps now, not repent later. At any cost, we should not let CA members extend the second CA deadline. After all, they are salaried through our taxes. Therefore, we should seek a way out to expedite their work. Can we, the sovereign taxpayers, impose a fresh mandate to promulgate the full-fledged constitution, at least by  January 12, 10 days in prior to the CA’s deadline? This will, nonethless, be probably the shortest time people get for the draft review. The Indian constitution, the longest constitution of the world with 448 articles that was amended 2,000 times in two years, for instance, was also opened to public discussion for 166 days. Shouldn’t we be able to discuss our statute for even 10 days?

Let us orchestrate peaceful pressure on political leaders for the promulgation of our new constitution.

 

- Senchurey is publisher of Conflict Management, a yearly magazine

 

Published: 28-12-2014 10:09

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