Nepal Nothing to Hold On To
Time is running out for Nepal to get its act together
Nepal has not only failed to form the country’s first representative and democratic constitution before the deadline of May 28, 2012 but it has also disappointed millions of Nepalese and shattered the hopes of stability returning to the country. Nepal has long been marred by social, ethnic and economic inequalities, now coupled with political instability, corruption and conflict. The anticipated constitution was to be the means to a sustainable peace and progress through achieving political, economic and social stability while ensuring an equal share of privileges in the country.
The international community has looked on with amazement as Nepal has undergone exemplary transformation over the past seven years. The 12-point agreement signed between the Maoist armed combatants and government in November 2005 ultimately paved the way for a democratic movement in April 2006 that uprooted the institution of Monarchy. Eventually, what instilled new fervor and hope amongst the Nepalese people was the first election of a Constituent Assembly (CA) in 2008. Those disgruntled by years of political instability and unjust allocation of social and economic privileges expected an elected CA to usher in a new era of democracy and introduce a people oriented constitution.
However, the dissolution of the CA after an extended stay of four years, accompanied by a hefty expenditure from the state fund, dismayed the ordinary lots and provoked them to raise concerns over the honesty and capability of political players. The CA saw its demise without completing its historical role of giving the country a breakthrough constitution thus leading to another round of entrenched political crisis and national instability.
Moreover, as is a familiar phenomenon in Nepali politics, mainstream parties have dived into the blame game, holding each other responsible for the CA’s demise. The Nepali Congress and CPN-UML, the two largest parties after UCPN-Maoist in the current set-up, have blamed the Maoists for sabotaging the drafting of a new constitution. They argue that the Maoists intend to capture the state power and restructure the system as per their own communist policy. On the contrary, the Maoists assert that they have given up autocratic communist principles and have opted for an egalitarian and people-centric constitution. They, on the other hand, blame the Congress and UML of sabotaging the constitution in order to maintain the status-quo by getting cold feet at the last minute and refusing to compromise.
While the issue of the integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants has been laid to rest, a more contentious matter is that of the federal restructuring of the state, on which a prolonged but unfruitful debate has already been held. As outstanding issues like the ‘form of governance’ and ‘power of the court’ remain unsolved, analysts suggest that one of the major reasons for failing to draft a constitution was the fiery debate over introducing ethno-centric federalism. Many communities have demanded an ethnic division of state provinces as the only means to address their right to an equal share of political, social and economic privileges. Others argue that it will jeopardize the ethnic harmony and invite another round of chaos and bloodshed. However, a balanced perspective runs over the analysis that the rights of all who have been underprivileged due to ethnic, social or geographic constraints should duly be recognized but without disturbing the communal harmony in the country. The foundation for this would be to allocate the federal states based on natural resources alongside economic and geographic aspects.
Now that the CA has been dissolved, Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai has announced a fresh election, slated for November 22. However, nineteen parties, including the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML, have already called for President Ram Baran Yadav to counter the prime minister’s announcement of holding fresh elections, calling it an unconstitutional and autocratic move. Many parties have already disregarded the announcement and have vowed to boycott the election until the prime minister resigns. The prime minister and the Maoist party however, has deemed such accusations worthless insisting that, although the current government is playing the role of a caretaker due to the dissolution of the parliament, the only way forward is to hold elections.
Given the political climate and the dissolution of the parliament, it is still not completely clear whether the prime minister’s announcement of the elections is legal, though the constitution does not prohibit consecutive elections if the current government becomes defunct. The only constitutionally legitimate power that could halt the prime minister’s call for elections is the president, as long as he acts on his own conscience. However, the probability of the president turning down the call for elections is unlikely since the main political parties have already contended over the other alternatives such as issuing a new constitution through an ordinance or reviving the CA through a political consensus. Given the current situation, the only political resolution of the crisis, may indeed be through holding elections.
All in all, a profound political understanding among the parties, whether to hold elections in a free and fair manner or seek other commonly accepted and legitimate means of constitution building, seems to be the only option left and solution out of this current political turmoil. The dissolution of the CA and the parliament has already created a power void in the country and the prolongation of this situation will only allow antiprogressive forces to fish in the muddy waters and invite protracted confusion and chaos. Amit Pyakurel holds a M.A in Mass Communication and Journalism. With prior experience in broadcast media, he currently works as a freelance journalist in Nepal.