Given the current trend of politics, a crisis seems imminent

  • Interview Hridayesh Tripathi

Feb 20, 2017-

The Nepal Congress and the CPN (Maoist Center) have agreed to announce the election dates for local level elections in the next Cabinet meeting, taking into account the constitutional requirement that local, provincial, and federal level elections must be held by 21 January 2018. Meanwhile, the Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC) has proposed 719 local units in the new federal set-up. 

Mukul Humagain and Roshan Sedhai spoke with Hridayesh Tripathi, Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party Vice-Chairman, about the discontent expressed by the Madhesi Morcha at these recent developments, the recently-tabled constitution amendment bill, India’s role in Nepal’s constitution-making process and the possibility of a constitutional crisis. 

 

What are the Madhesh Morcha’s views about what seems to be an emerging consensus among the NC, the CPN-UML, and the CPN Maoist Centre to hold three-tier elections under the framework of the new constitution?

The initial position of the three parties (the NC, the CPN-UML, and CPN Maoist Centre) was that these three elections would need time so as to take place within proper parameters. A deadline of January 21, 2018 was set by which local, provincial, and federal level elections would have be held to implement the constitution. We are of the position that these elections will not take place within these dates if they are to be conducted properly. A proper system has not been designed for these elections to take place considering the new federal set up. Various other issues have not been addressed either. This will make it very problematic for the elections to be held. Instead of focusing on drafting an effective and well thought out constitution, more importance was given to power-sharing by various political leaders. There was too much of a rush. The whole process was fast tracked, so the writing of the constitution could not take place in a proper manner. 

The combination of these issues made the process of formulating the constitution weak from the outset.  Even after the promulgation of the constitution, the three main political parties involved should have created a team of experts to iron out issues of contention in terms of content and language. But this was not done, and now the constitution needs revision. Though the statute has been approved by the Constituent Assembly, work is still required for all Nepalis to consent to it in its entirety.

If local level elections are to be held soon, there is not much time to reach a consensus and amend the constitution. What will it take for your party to reach an agreement with the government?

It is one thing to initiate election procedures, but it is doubtful if the elections will be held successfully. The current mindset seems to be that if it succeeds, all is well and good; if it does not, the next steps will be decided subsequently. The issue of power sharing surrounding the local level elections should also be considered. The decisions of the prime minister are affected by the fact that there is an agreement between the NC and the CPN-Maoist that the next prime minister will be from the NC. This is influencing the situation. Meanwhile, the UML is focusing on the fact that should these elections not follow through, it will cause a rift between the Congress and the Maoist that the UML can capitalise on.

The Morcha maintains that issues which were discussed and agreed upon between the Madhes-centric parties and the government to be included in the constitution were not addressed either in the constitution or the constitution amendment bill.  Our demand is that the agreements should be honoured. Until then, we will distance ourselves from any elections. More than 1,300 Madhesi and Tharu youths who are actively involved in the current movement have been injured and more than 2 dozen are in jail. Given the present circumstances, the Madhesi Morcha cannot endorse and participate in any electoral procedures until our demands are addressed.

What are your thoughts on the constitution amendment bill that has recently been tabled?

When discussions were taking place between the NC, the CPN Maoist Centre and the Madhesi Morcha, certain issues were raised by the NC and the CPN Maoist Centre. For example, they said was that local level elections would not be rushed. They also talked about revising the provision of languages in the constitution. This was discussed and agreed upon as a whole.  All of these issues have to be addressed to create a conducive environment for holding local level elections.

A section of the Madhesi Morcha has been reaching out to the UML to end the current political deadlock. How do you view this?

The Madhesi Morcha had a discussion with the UML regarding talks with the NC and the CPN Maoist Centre to make the new federal set up a success. We understand that the UML wishes for elections under the existing structure. Given the opposition from other parties that have demanded revision of the number and boundaries of local units proposed by the LLRC before elections take place, we do not see an agreement being reached.

The prime minister has said that he will initiate local level election preparations, and will also simultaneously address issues regarding the LLRC. What will this entail?

If this is the case, then the government and parties should reach a consensus with the UML. Let the issues the UML has with the local level elections be addressed. Additionally, let’s settle the issues about the constitution as well, thereby creating a favourable environment for polls.

What issues do you see in the LLRC report?

In the 15 days allocated to a three-member task force to study the LLRC report, the Madhesi Morcha was consulted on the 14th day. We requested that this report be provided for further review, but the request was denied. We could not comment on the report without accessing it. We could only discuss general issues.

How have you assessed India’s role in the post-constitution promulgation phase?

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Parliament of Nepal in 2014 and lauded Nepal’s peace process and political transition towards a multiparty democracy, he was applauded. However, when India expressed reservations about the constitution, anti-Indian sentiments were raised here. With every move India makes, it is greeted with either praise or criticism from the Nepali populace. There is no uniformity in terms of Nepali sentiment towards India. This has caused strain in the Nepal-India relationship.

When the constitutional amendment bill was tabled, the Indian Foreign Ministry lauded this achievement, which generated criticism in Nepal. Now the Indian government refrains from expressing views on Nepal’s constitutional process. Another important thing that I wish to say is that even when people had not migrated down from the hills and the mountains, it was the Madhesi and the Tharu population who safeguarded Nepal’s borders. So questioning the patriotism of the Madhesis and the Tharus is very deplorable. It is lamentable that people think if a separate Madhes province is created, it will be absorbed into India.

Given the differences among the parties over polls and constitution implementation, how do you see Nepali politics unfolding in the coming days? Are we heading towards a political and constitutional crisis?

The probability of this is rising. Three major parties are keeping power-sharing at the centre of everything. Neither the government nor the main opposition appears sincere about making the constitution acceptable to the agitating communities. This has led to a weak constitution, and given the current trend of politics in Nepal, a crisis seems imminent.

What do you think about way the current government has been functioning?

The current government has not been able to meet our demands, and its work has generally been viewed critically. For example, the appointments of the IGP and ambassadors have been against the spirit of the constitution. While the current 

government is the lesser of the two evils in comparison to the previous Oli-led government, its work is far from satisfactory.  

Published: 20-02-2017 08:32

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