Misplaced priorities

  • The present turmoil is all about power-sharing rather than a real fight for an all-inclusive constitution
- Narayan Manandhar
Misplaced priorities

Jan 22, 2015-

The vandalism of the Constituent Assembly (CA) hall that took place on midnight of January 19 was nothing more than the boiling point of Nepal’s politics, which had been due since the November 2013 elections. Now, both ruling and opposition parties are accusing each other of either not intending to or hindering efforts to draft a constitution in time.

One blogger made a sensible comment regarding this scenario, “It is not just the Maoists who are responsible for the unfortunate incident. The person who rescheduled the meeting originally called at 1.00 pm on January 19 to 1.00 am on January 20 is as responsible.” Nepali politicians are not just adept at doing everything at the eleventh hour; they, akin to thieves and burglars, like performing surprising feats at midnight. When one performs mischievous feats at midnight, the outcomes are only obvious.

Faulty process

When the CA elections were held on November 2013, this scribe had written in this very paper (‘Missing in elections,’ June 29, 2013) that they were technically flawed. Large swathes of voters, around three-four million, were missing from the election register. Then, politicians justified this missing number by giving explanations like overseas migration of youth for employment, the boycott of elections by the Mohan Baidya-led CPN-Maoist, the enforcement of a strict voter registration system, and over-registration of voters in the last Constituent Assembly (CA) elections held in 2008.

It is true that one cannot always expect a good outcome from a good process, as a number of factors intervene in between. But it would be foolish to expect good results from a faulty process. A medical doctor may not be able to save a patient (outcome) even after performing a successful operation (process), but it would be naïve to expect a patient to survive after undergoing a maligned operation. Similarly, to expect anything good from the present CA or that it will even deliver a constitution would be foolish. The ongoing debate on drafting of the constitution, either through ‘consensus amongst political parties’—the stand of the Maoists and Madhesbadi coalition—or ‘parliamentary voting process’—as argued by the ruling coalition of the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML—has no meaning if one looks at the factors that led to the unceremonial demise of the first CA.

I would even say that the existing coalitions between these four forces are unnatural. Had ideology been a determining factor, the coalitions would be between the UML and the Maoists, not between the NC and UML, as both political parties cling to their communist ideologies. Similarly, it would have been natural for the Congress and Madhesbadi parties to be allies, as many of the top leaders from the Madhesi parties were previously in the NC. Though the influence of our southern neighbour is equally prevalent among all the political parties in Nepal, these latter two have built a special rapport with Delhi.

Power struggle

Nepali politicians are not just adept at taking important decisions at midnight; they are also adept at retaining the status quo, doing patchwork actions, and reaching highly personalised and compromised solutions. On the eve of the CA II elections, there were many calls and debates to reform the system—from reducing the bloated nature of the CA to the composition of directly-elected and proportionally-nominated members. In the end, our political masters retained the status quo. There was also considerable debate on separating the task of drafting the constitution and the everyday parliamentary works of the members. However, this too fell on deaf ears. Leaders did not even heed the idea of disallowing one politician to contest from two constituencies.

The Maoists came to realise the problem only after they were relegated to third position in the November elections. The NC and UML were jubilant by their unexpected victory. As usual, the Tarai-based political parties were in total disarray. Other than affecting the rankings of the major political parties, the new election results did not change much with regards to the nature and structure of the CA’s composition. To the amusement of many, the same person who showed so much indolence and inefficiency during the first CA was reappointed chairman in the second. Irritated by his modus operandi, journalists even dubbed him ‘Mr Suchane’. In Nepali, suchana stands for notice.

Constitutionally speaking, the current CA still has three years to go. So it is difficult to understand why leaders are in the process of performing hara-kiri. The present turmoil has more to do with power sharing rather than a real fight to have an all-inclusive, federal democratic constitution.

When the rules of the game are designed as per personal needs and aspirations, it is difficult to reach consensus. The general understanding is that when parties fail to arrive at consensus, they will then go for a vote. The loser has all the chance to walk out but it will always be in the interest of the winning majority to heed the grievances of the losing minority. But it is baffling to understand the interpretation—one need to secure consensus even to go for a voting exercise. Now, Comrade Prachanda is saying that ‘Nowhere in the world is there the practice of drafting a constitution through voting; it is always an exercise of consensus.’ No problem with that, agreed. The problem is with the two-third provision in the constitution. Who inserted that clause in the constitution in the first place?

Two conflicting views

By now, it is clear that in the absence of an imminent external threat, as well as incentives, the parties will never come to consensus. No such force exists at the moment. When conflicts are deeply entrenched, you need a third party to resolve them. Nepal does have such a third party to mediate, but that party is shying away from surfacing. Unlike in the past, donors too have shied away from investing in Nepal’s constitutional-drafting process. Nowadays, we do not hear much about overseas junkets, seminars, and workshops at star-rated hotels and resorts. Not being able to dip fingers in the honey pot, there is a kind of frustration building among the CA members.

When the UN under-secretary-general for political affairs was here, he reportedly left after giving an amusing piece of advice— he suggested that the coalition of the Maoists and Madhesbadi political parties abide by the voting procedure but that their opponents go by consensus. Even the press release coming from India speaks of “honouring past agreements and understandings as well as the mandate of the CA elections”. If the Maoists and the Madhesbadi political parties represent the past agreements then the Congress and UML represent the current mandate of the CA. Reconciling these two views is what is hampering the political process in Nepal.

Manandhar writes extensively on corruption and governance issues

Published: 23-01-2015 09:19

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