Nepal Noth­ing to Hold On To

Time is run­ning out for Nepal to get its act to­gether

Southasia - - Contents - By Amit Pyakurel

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.

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