The sky won’t fall if all three elections aren’t held by the deadline

  • Interview Rajendra Shrestha

Mar 13, 2017-Political tension has flared up in the wake of the clash last week between the police and the supporters of the Madhesi Morcha. The clash claimed the lives of five protesters and wounded more. The Morcha cadres were agitating against a mass meeting of the CPN-UML that was part of its “Mechi-Mahakali National Campaign” targeting local level elections slated for May 14.  Tika R Pradhan spoke with Rajendra Shrestha, co-chairman of the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal and coordinator of the secretariat of Sanghiya Gathabandhan, an alliance of the Madhes-based and Janajati parties, about the Saptari incident, amendment to the constitution, local level elections and the agitators’ political course of action. 

What is your view about the Saptari incident?

The Saptari killings were unfortunate, and the Sanghiya Gathabandhan has taken some steps in response. We demand that a high-level probe committee be formed to conduct a fair and independent investigation. International law stipulates that even when a crowd loses control, they can be shot at only below the knees, whereas in this case, the police shot them in the head and the chest. 

 

Some argue it is the Morcha that is primarily responsible for the incident as it tried to obstruct a peaceful programme of a political party.

Of course no one prohibited the UML from organising its programme. But it was provocative on its part to do so in the locality where protests have been going on against its policies. It is doing the wrong kind of politics—espousing racism (against the Janajatis) and apartheid (against the Madhesis) in the name of nationalism. KP Oli made derogatory comments against the Madhesis, saying they were people from across the border and comparing their deaths to fallen mangoes. It was the local people of Saptari who agitated entirely of their own volition against the UML’s programme. 

What will be your political course of action now?

We have served a seven-day ultimatum to the government as a precondition for continuing our support to it. We have two main demands, namely the passage of a refined amendment bill, and the withdrawal of the announcement of the date for local level elections.   

The government unilaterally announced the date for local level elections. If the government does not correct this misstep, we will withdraw our support to it and intensify our protest programmes. 

But there are divisions within the Sanghiya Gathabandhan regarding the amendment bill.  

We have to be clear that the Sanghiya Gathabandhan is a loose alliance of various Madhesi, Janajati and other forces. So we cannot dictate to them what they can and cannot do. But, from the very outset, we have been against any amendment to what we consider a regressive and discriminatory constitution. It was the prime minister who was for an amendment. But he did not keep his word. In the beginning, he said the amendment would take place before the polls. Later he said the two would be carried out simultaneously. Now he is saying the amendment will take place first. What kind of politics is this?

Why are you against local elections?

We are not against polls. But they have to begin from the central level.  Nepal is a federal state now. What we are against is the holding of local polls under the jurisdiction of the central government. In different federal states in the world, the centre conducts provincial polls and the provinces conduct local polls. That is how it should be in Nepal. 

Article 56 (5) of the constitution has provisions for autonomous, protected and special areas. A local body restructuring commission was formed to create such areas and to determine the number and borders of Village and Municipal Councils. It has done only two out of the five tasks. Autonomous, protected and special areas have to be created at first. Only then should local levels be formed in the remaining areas. What is happening is against the spirit of federalism. Going for local level polls on the basis of an incomplete report will take the country towards further conflict. 

What do you think is the way out from the current stalemate?

The constitution has to be amended and proper federalism institutionalised. Provinces have to be created on the lines of the report presented by the erstwhile State Restructuring Commission and the Thematic Committee of the first Constituent Assembly. If that is not immediately possible, and if we have to accept the current seven-province model, two things have to be done. 

One, a federal commission to determine the number, boundaries and jurisdiction of provinces has to be formed. Two, article 274 of the constitution is highly regressive. It makes increasing the number of federal provinces practically 

impossible. It has to be changed in line with article three of the Indian constitution, which has allowed the number of provinces to gradually grow from 14 to the 

current 29. 

If provincial demarcation is the main issue, why are you so against local polls which do not affect the redrawing of federal boundaries?

If there is true federalism in the country, local polls have to be conducted by the provincial governments. If the government is adamant about holding them without addressing our demands, we will boycott and prevent them.  

Won’t that further polarise the country?

The country has been polarised even before the constitution was promulgated. It was discriminatory and a means to protect the old regime. As many as 40 people were killed during protests against the constitution. Three pillars of the constitution—federalism, proportionism and inclusion—have to be properly institutionalised to foster national unity and to make the statute acceptable to all.    

 

How would you respond to those who claim that the new constitution has made progress on all these fronts and that other demands will be gradually met as it is implemented?

Our demand is about safeguarding the achievements of the various movements the country has witnessed. If you’re for a liberal democracy, then the constitution of 1990 is very good. If you’re for an inclusive democracy, then the interim constitution of 2007 is even better. It is not right to pay lip service to inclusive democracy, but embrace the provisions of liberal democracy. The current struggle is between liberal/traditional democracy and inclusive/federal democracy. 

There is a view that continued confrontation and a prolonged transition create conditions that are ripe for radicalism. What is your opinion?

Radical tendencies are likely to grow if a state adopts discriminatory policies. Switzerland, which is hailed as a great success story for federalism, went through a severe struggle between the German and the French speaking peoples and finally institutionalised the principles of federalism, proportionism and inclusion. Nepal has an even bigger diversity than Switzerland. It should institutionalise these three principles if it is to protect itself from the dangers of the two extremisms of KP Oli and CK Raut. 

What’s your take on the possibility of a political and constitutional vacuum if all three levels of elections do not take place by January 2018?

There has been similar talk about a political vacuum before. The major parties agreed to appoint Khil Raj Regmi as the chairman of council of ministers to fill such a vacuum. The sky won’t fall even if all three elections do not take place by the deadline. The Supreme Court had no business issuing a statement that influences the country’s political course.

Published: 13-03-2017 08:26

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