A Man­i­festo of Dis­con­tent

Con­sti­tu­tion-mak­ing in Nepal is stuck in a web of self-serv­ing pol­i­tick­ing that is go­ing nowhere and is mak­ing the coun­try look like a mock­ery of democ­racy and rule of law.

Southasia - - Region - By Dr. Jan Sharma

The con­sti­tu­tion­ally flawed but po­lit­i­cally ex­pe­di­ent de­ci­sion to ex­tend the term of the Con­stituent Assem­bly in Nepal un­til Au­gust 28 re­vives hopes for the elu­sive goal of con­clud­ing the peace process and writ­ing the con­sti­tu­tion. How­ever, both are un­likely, push­ing the coun­try into ei­ther fresh elec­tions or chaos.

Po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have agreed to fi­nal­ize the first draft by Au­gust 18 so that they can de­bate the ba­sic law of the land in the Assem­bly, an am­bi­tious goal given the nu­mer­ous con­tentious is­sues that re­main to be set­tled in the mid­dle of an in­tense power strug­gle be­tween four key po­lit­i­cal for­ma­tions.

The sec­ond three-month ex­ten­sion on May 29 was pos­si­ble af­ter three politi­cians ham­mered out a vaguely worded 5-point deal that led to pro­mul­ga­tion of the Ninth Amend­ment of the In­terim Con­sti­tu­tion to ex­tend the term. The deal seeks to (a) com­plete the peace process by Au­gust, (b) fin­ish writ­ing the first draft of the con­sti­tu­tion also by Au­gust, (c) make the Nepal Army an in­clu­sive in­sti­tu­tion, (d) ex­tend the Assem­bly’s term by three months, and (e) Prime Min­is­ter Jha­lanath Khanal should re­sign to pave the way for a na­tional unity gov­ern­ment.

Pushpa Kamal Da­hal

A fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence among the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship is the very con­cept of democ­racy. The Uni­fied Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) looks at North Korea as its role model for democ­racy and this is pre­cisely why they fought the “peo­ple’s war” for a decade. The rest of the par­ties – the Nepali Congress (NC), Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal-Uni­fied Marx­ist Lenin­ist (CPN-UML) and the United Demo­cratic Mad­hesi Front (UDMF) – ar­gue they did not join hands with the Maoists to over­throw ab­so­lute monar­chy and to in­tro­duce a com­mu­nist to­tal­i­tar­ian regime.

Be­neath this im­pres­sive ide­o­log­i­cal di­vide is the nasty power strug­gle at the per­sonal level. UCPN-M Chair­man Pushpa Kamal Da­hal, who is un­ac­cept­able to other par­ties as well as In­dia, will never al­low his deputy Babu­ram Bhat­tarai – con­sid­ered by many as In­dia’s blue eyed boy – to lead the na­tional unity gov­ern­ment. In the NC, Sher Bahadur Deuba is pit­ted against Ram Chan­dra Poudel. Prime Min­is­ter Jha­lanath Khanal of CPN-UML, who came to power by shame­lessly over­throw­ing his own party col­league Mad­hav Ku­mar Nepal’s gov­ern­ment in Fe­bru­ary, does not have the full back­ing of his own party in gov­ern­ment. Each con­stituent of the UDMF is a min­is­te­rial as­pi­rant and would do any­thing to get the job. Since all these lead­ers are well-known for their au­to­cratic style and sleazy life, democ­racy is a big joke in Nepal.

Like the 3-point deal that led to the first ex­ten­sion in May 2010, the sec­ond ex­ten­sion refers to a com­mit­ment to peace, con­sti­tu­tion and a unity gov­ern­ment. The sec­ond is likely to fail for the same rea­son: the en­tire year was wasted in oust­ing and elect­ing the prime min­is­ter. Prime Min­is­ter Khanal, known in his party as a “Maoist agent,” says he will step down the mo­ment there is a con­sen­sus, which re­mains elu­sive. With UCPN-M’s back­ing, Khanal will do any­thing to sab­o­tage a con­sen­sus, and if he makes progress on con­sti­tu­tion build­ing and peace, Da­hal is quite ca­pa­ble of re­turn­ing to power. Land­locked Nepal’s de­pen­dence is so ex­ten­sive on In­dia that no gov­ern­ment can func­tion with­out New Delhi’s sup­port.

Con­clud­ing the peace process is crit­i­cal for real progress in writ­ing a con­sti­tu­tion ac­cept­able to all po­lit­i­cal par­ties and or­di­nary Nepalis. “It is dif­fi­cult to move for­ward in con­sti­tu­tion writ­ing un­less peace process makes progress,” says Ram Sha­ran Ma­hat, for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter and NC leader. “The key in­di­ca­tors for peace process are ad­just­ment and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of the Maoist com­bat­ants within three months and sur­ren­der all weapons to the gov­ern­ment.”

How­ever, the NC is so des­per­ate to join the gov­ern­ment that it has se­ri­ously com­pro­mised its po­si­tion re­cently: it does not in­sist any­more on Prime Min­is­ter Khanal to re­sign, and it no more in­sists on the Maoists to sur­ren­der their arms. In other words, UCPN-M as of now con­tin­ues to have its own army, has all the weapons it needs, and the army is still un­der Maoist com­mand even if it is main­tained now on state fund­ing.

There are deep and per­sist­ing dif­fer­ences on the de­tails of the peace process. The num­ber of per­son­nel to be in­te­grated has not been agreed upon. There are is­sues of rank har­mo­niza­tion: 19,000 com­bat­ants have 4,641 of­fi­cers, the same num­ber of of­fi­cers for the 95,000-strong Nepal Army. Stan­dard norms have not been agreed upon. Even the UDMF wants 10,000 Mad­he­sis from the south­ern flat­land bor­der­ing In­dia to be in­te­grated into the Nepal Army. The strug­gle for power and con­trol of state re­sources is so in­tense that or­di­nary peo­ple are com­pletely fed up with it. The Repub­lic Day cel­e­bra­tion on May 29 was lack­lus­ter with scant pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion. The Assem­bly, ef­fec­tively a rub­ber stamp of a hand­ful of politi­cians con­spir­ing all the time, long ceased its le­git­i­macy de­spite the tech­ni­cal ex­ten­sion.

A poll by Hi­mal news­magazine pub­lished on May 14 said 49% of the peo­ple wanted a fresh man­date in­stead of the ex­ten­sion while 21.1% want a team of ex­perts as­signed to write the ba­sic law of the land. Last May’s poll showed only 12.7% fa­vor­ing fresh polls. The poll showed a grow­ing sup­port for the re­vival of the 1990 con­sti­tu­tion with 10.45 fa­vor­ing this op­tion com­pared to 2.5% last year. An­other opin­ion sur­vey by the In­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary An­a­lysts pub­lished in April found 53% of the re­spon­dents ex­press­ing doubts on the con­tin­u­a­tion of the peace process with only 16% ad­mit­ting it would con­tinue. The rea­sons for skep­ti­cism: 42% blamed politi­cians who were busy with their own vested in­ter­ests to write the con­sti­tu­tion on time, 24% blamed po­lit­i­cal par­ties’ fail­ures to ham­mer out a con­sen­sus and 6% blamed it on the Maoists.

Cur­rently, the con­di­tions in Nepal make the coun­try look like a mock­ery of con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy and rule of law. With the peace process in a dead­lock, con­sti­tu­tion­mak­ing will con­tinue to be dif­fi­cult. Even if a rudi­men­tary doc­u­ment is ready, it would have no pop­u­lar sup­port. There­fore, it would be bet­ter to not have a con­sti­tu­tion rather than have a man­i­festo of dis­con­tent. In such a sit­u­a­tion, seek­ing a fresh man­date would be a bet­ter op­tion than a right­ist or a red coup d’etate. There is no al­ter­na­tive to build­ing con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy and in­stru­ments of rule of law. The writer is a Re­search Fel­low at Sangam In­sti­tute for Pol­icy Anal­y­sis and Strate­gic Stud­ies, Kath­mandu.

The po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in Nepal is bound to de­lay the peace process.

Mad­hav Ku­mar Nepal

Babu­ram Bhat­tarai

Jha­lanath Khanal

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