Last week, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala refused to implement a crucial provision of the written understanding he had signed with the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) as the basis of forming the coalition government in March. Koirala said the president and vice president should not seek parliamentary endorsement for their continuation, as it violates the letter and spirit of the constitution.
Koirala’s stance is fraught with the risk of bringing many agreements, especially after the political change of 2006, under review and subjecting them to selective rejection. Political parties have signed one or another agreement that clearly undermines the provisions of the existing constitution. This political confusion is inching towards a deadlock, as evident in Sunday’s fresh crisis. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) walked out of a meeting hosted by Koirala, in which the Nepali Congress (NC) and the UML were present. It was called to explore the possibility of the three parties taking a common stand on contentious issues like federalism and governance, which have blocked efforts to deliver the constitution. UCPN-M leader Prachanda wanted a “high-level” political committee (HLPC), headed by himself, to explore the matter. But the NC and UML were hesitant about bestowing such responsibility on a party relegated to the third position in the Constituent Assembly (CA) and showing signs that it is headed for another split.
“Without the HLPC we cannot move forward. And if we don’t move forward, that will be my defeat and a political victory of Mohan Baidya Kiran who wants an extra-CA body to make the constitution,” said Prachanda. Baidya had led the split in the UCPN-M in 2012, and his Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) has been demanding the CA’s dissolution and an “all-forces initiative to draft the new constitution”.
The total political fragmentation, or the absence of a point of convergence, makes the resolution of the contentious issues by next week and the finalisation of the draft constitution by the January 22 deadline look difficult, if not impossible. The NC and UML now insist that the country cannot afford more provinces and their number should not exceed seven, against the Maoist insistence on the 11-province formula of the first CA.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clear message to leaders of Nepal’s Terai area, comprising 23 of the 75 districts along the Indian border, that India stood for a well-integrated Nepal and that Delhi would not even remotely support movements to weaken a neighbour, was seen as a reversal of the UPA’s Nepal policy. But now, some leaders not happy with Modi’s approach, are preparing to raise the “ek madhes, ek pradesh” demand and begin a violent movement, if necessary. Emotive issues have their own strengths and pitfalls. A government equally discredited is not ideal for writing a constitution.
Koirala discarding a past agreement may encourage other parties to review other agreements. But all that will mean no constitution in January.