Coun­try in Cri­sis

Nepal is still grop­ing for a Con­sti­tu­tion and now time seems to be run­ning out.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Taj M Khat­tak

In 2006 King Gya­nen­dra and Maoist in­sur­gents ended a decade long strife by sign­ing a peace deal in Kathmandu which had con­sumed nearly 13,000 lives. This was no or­di­nary mo­ment for the 12th poor­est coun­try in the world as it ush­ered hopes for a tran­si­tion to a repub­lic af­ter nearly 240 years of un­bro­ken monar­chy – the only Hindu monar­chy in the world. The King in Nepal had al­ways been con­sid­ered a di­vine in­car­na­tion of Lord Vishnu. His re­moval from the throne in 2008 was there­fore noth­ing short of god be­ing thrown out of his own tem­ple.

Ear­lier in 1990, Nepal had tran­si­tioned from an au­thor­i­tar­ian monar­chic rule to a con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy. The In­terim Con­sti­tu­tion of 2007 cre­ated a 601-mem­ber Con­stituent As­sem­bly in which the Maoist had emerged as a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal force. It was also agreed that the Con­stituent As­sem­bly will act as a Par­lia­ment till such time that a new con­sti­tu­tion could be adopted. The Con­stituent As­sem­bly, how­ever, failed to meet its 2012 dead­line re­sult­ing in its dis­so­lu­tion and fresh elec­tions.

The sec­ond Con­stituent As­sem­bly, con­vened in 2014, has also been un­able to draft a con­sti­tu­tion ac­cept­able to all stake­hold­ers and this has plunged the coun­try into an­other cri­sis. This re­peated fail­ure of the po­lit­i­cal par­ties to form a con­sen­sus for the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion has turned the ini­tial op­ti­mism into wide­spread anx­i­ety. As the fu­ture prospects over a new con­sti­tu­tion ap­pear nowhere in sight, the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil is deep­en­ing and caus­ing wor­ries in the re­gion.

The main rea­son for this po­lit­i­cal chaos in Nepal is the squab­bles among the par­ties which is not a new phe­nom­e­non in South Asia. The gov­er­nance struc­ture of state is one of the most con­tentious is­sues to be tack­led by the Con­stituent As­sem­bly. This in turn is closely tied to the ques­tion of iden­tity and equal­ity in a di­verse na­tion with a ma­trix of hun­dreds of com­mu­ni­ties, di­alects and cul­tures.

At present Nepal is di­vided into five re­gions from east to west - Far West, Mid-West, West, Cen­tral and East - with con­trol held by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Kathmandu. But the eth­nic and re­gional par­ties are in fa­vor of a fed­eral struc­ture that rec­og­nizes and grants au­ton­omy to their groups while its op­po­nents fear that such sec­tar­ian pol­i­tics would en­dan­ger the coun­try’s uni­fied na­tional iden­tity by fu­elling eth­nic and re­gional con­flicts among var­i­ous en­ti­ties.

Dis­rup­tive be­hav­ior by op­pos­ing groups out­side the work­ing of Con­sti­tu­tion As­sem­bly has com­pli­cated the mat­ter fur­ther. In spite of dan­gers of fur­ther widen­ing of the rift, the Uni­fied Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal – the Maoist (UCPN-M) has an­nounced for­ma­tion of thir­teen au­ton­o­mous states which the rul­ing party con­sid­ers against the spirit of Com­pre­hen­sive Peace Agree­ment, In­terim Con­sti­tu­tion and un­der­min­ing the Con­stituent As­sem­bly.

The prob­lem of cre­at­ing and re­defin­ing the essence and iden­tity of new con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy in Nepal is a gen­uine one af­ter over two cen­turies of monar­chy in which the peo­ple’s as­pi­ra­tions took a back seat. This is gen­uine but its res­o­lu­tion has been jeop­ar­dized by a power strug­gle among the po­lit­i­cal par­ties which are ex­ploit­ing and fur­ther po­lar­iz­ing the di­ver­sity of the re­gions for their own nar­row ends. Ev­ery ef­fort to­wards find­ing a so­lu­tion, like the one of pre­par­ing a ques­tion­naire on con­tentious is­sues and vot­ing on it in the as­sem­bly, has been re­sisted which does not au­gur well for the fu­ture.

The two thirds ma­jor­ity in the Con­stituent As­sem­bly com­prises a coali­tion of the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Uni­fied Marx­ist-Lenin­ist (UML) party. The Maoist party which had done well in the first round of elec­tions hasn’t per­formed well in the sec­ond round which could be one

rea­son for hard­en­ing of po­si­tions. Its al­liance with the Mad­heshi Mor­cha, a group­ing of re­gional par­ties from the south­ern parts, would tend to sup­port this view.

It is ironic to note that the Con­stituent As­sem­bly had been the de­mand of po­lit­i­cal par­ties in Nepal since 1950s. Once this de­mand ma­te­ri­al­ized in 2008 af­ter a pro­longed strug­gle and plenty of blood­shed, the politi­cians be­gan to de­fine their own diver­gent stands on var­i­ous is­sues in a rather in­flex­i­ble man­ner. The po­lit­i­cal par­ties, par­tic­u­larly the Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal-Uni­fied Marx­ist Lenin­ist (CPN-UML), the (Uni­fied Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) and the Nepali Congress (NC), am­pli­fied their dis­agree­ments on even the small­est pos­si­ble is­sues.

Small but in­flu­en­tial par­ties such as the Mad­heshi Janad­hikar Fo­rum (MJF) for ex­am­ple are in fa­vor of a Mad­hesi state with a pan-Mad­hesi iden­tity while the Tharu mi­nor­ity in the Mad­hes re­gion is against any struc­ture which would block the en­tire Mad­hes re­gion al­to­gether.

This has re­sulted in their col­lec­tive fail­ure to mea­sure up to the ex­pec­ta­tions of the Nepalese peo­ple to put the coun­try on a demo­cratic path as soon as pos­si­ble to reap the benefits of pros­per­ity in the fast mov­ing 21st cen­tury eco­nomic dy­nam­ics. With the threat of tak­ing to the streets by some of the more dis­grun­tled par­ties, the im­passe has all the po­ten­tial to un­der­mine peace in the frag­ile repub­lic.

One rea­son why Nepal has ended in this quag­mire could be that although it formed eleven the­matic com­mit­tees af­ter the meet­ing of the first Con­stituent As­sem­bly in 2008 which were charged with re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to work on dif­fer­ent com­po­nents, the process gen­er­ally re­mained free float­ing and eluded writ­ing of a pre­lim­i­nary draft of the fu­ture con­sti­tu­tion which could be de­bated upon to nar­row down dif­fer­ences for an even­tual con­sen­sus. En­gage­ment of con­sti­tu­tional ex­perts to frame a pre­lim­i­nary draft of the pro­vi­sions of the Con­sti­tu­tion, with a view to sub­ject­ing this to fo­cused dis­cus­sions in the Con­stituent As­sem­bly could have moved the process closer to­wards a fi­nal con­clu­sion.

Po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing out­side the for­mal con­sti­tu­tion draft­ing process has ad­versely af­fected progress. Vi­o­lent dis­putes have dom­i­nated the po­lit­i­cal dis­course on var­i­ous el­e­ments of the pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional struc­ture while con­struc­tive dis­cus­sions have been rel­e­gated to the back seat. When­ever progress is made, like the fi­nal­iza­tion of a re­port by the Na­tional In­ter­est Preser­va­tion Com­mit­tee (NIPC) of the Con­stituent As­sem­bly, which had out­lined the con­tours of the pro­posed Con­sti­tu­tion, it was im­me­di­ately un­der­mined by one of NIPC’s own mem­ber who op­posed the Con­cept Pa­per which led to fur­ther rig­ma­role of for­ma­tion of a Con­cept Pa­per Dis­cus­sion Com­mit­tee. As a re­sult, the mile­stones set for the Con­stituent As­sem­bly con­tinue to slip their dead­lines.

Each po­lit­i­cal party in the coun­try has sought to dom­i­nate the other in the pro­ceed­ings in­stead of reach­ing for an ac­com­mo­da­tion of diver­gent views, with the UCPN-N party re­port­edly lead­ing the neg­a­tive trend. Some­times dis­agree­ments have been on weight­ier is­sues like the pro­posed na­ture of the coun­try’s fed­eral struc­ture and dis­tri­bu­tion of state power. On other oc­ca­sions, dis­agree­ments and pro­cras­ti­na­tions have been on such triv­ial is­sues as the Na­tional Bird, Na­tional An­i­mal and Na­tional Flower.

The sin­gle most con­tentious is­sue is whether to cre­ate fed­eral states based on caste or eth­nic­ity, which is de­manded by the UCPN-M and its al­lies. The other four ma­jor is­sues of con­tention are: state re­struc­ture, form of gov­er­nance, the elec­toral sys­tem and the ju­di­cial sys­tem. The NC and CPNUML call for cen­tral­ized gov­er­nance of a max­i­mum seven prov­inces, a par­lia­men­tary sys­tem, first-past-the­p­ost elec­tions and a supreme court.

The UCPN-M calls for de­cen­tral­ized gov­er­nance of 10 to 14 prov­inces; a di­rectly elected ex­ec­u­tive; pro­por­tional-rep­re­sen­ta­tion elec­tions and a con­sti­tu­tional court. In ad­di­tion, the NC and CPN-UML want to pass the con­sti­tu­tion by ma­jor­ity vote in the CA, while the UCPN-M de­mands that an agree­ment be formed by con­sen­sus.

Time is run­ning out for Nepal as so­cial po­lar­iza­tion has al­ready height­ened mu­tual sus­pi­cion and communal vi­o­lence. Spo­radic clashes have been tak­ing place from time to time be­tween sup­port­ers and op­po­nents of a fed­eral model cre­ated along eth­nic lines. The con­cept of Fed­er­al­ism has been prac­ticed in Nepal for nearly 240 years. As such the psy­che of the Nepalese peo­ple is un­likely to give up this cen­tral idea so eas­ily in spite of injustice suf­fered by marginal­ized re­gions of the coun­try.

The irony is that while there have been so much dis­play of in­flex­i­bly among politi­cians on the fed­er­al­ist na­ture of the con­sti­tu­tion for nearly a decade, the or­di­nary Nepalese stuck in their day to day sur­vival, as in­deed cit­i­zens else­where in South Asia, are un­likely to know what this thing called a ‘con­sti­tu­tion’ is all about.

The writer is a re­tired Vice Ad­mi­ral of the Pak­istan Navy.

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