I am under tremendous pressure to not seriously pursue the constitution-making process,” said Baburam Bhattarai, senior Maoist leader and former prime minister, who heads the Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee of the Constituent Assembly (CA). The committee missed the September 6 deadline for forging consensus on contentious issues and referring it to the House for a full endorsement. Bhattarai didn’t disclose names of the individuals or groups allegedly pressuring him while submitting the report and seeking more time. But was it propaganda to absolve himself or his committee of blame? Are there, in fact, forces obstructing him? He is not the only leader from his party to put the entire blame for failure on conspiracies, real or perceived.
“I chose to quit rather than appease the external lords (bideshi prabhu),” Maoist chief Prachanda had said in May 2009, when he resigned as PM, following President Ram Baran Yadav’s veto of the cabinet decision to sack the army chief, Rookmangud Katawal.
He didn’t disclose who the “external lord” was, but the reference was clearly directed at India. Was Bhattarai using the same conspiracy theory? However, there is a sense of general indifference or lack of trust regarding the credibility, sincerity and ability of Nepal’s leaders, or of the second CA, to deliver the constitution. People will not be surprised if they fail once again.
A deadline missed by one CA committee should not be a big cause for concern. But, given the failure of the first CA and resultant cynicism about its successor, this committee meeting the deadline was important. The House has fixed January 22 for finalising the first draft of the constitution. But with major issues like the form of federalism, governance, electoral system and judiciary as well as the number of provinces unsettled, the chain consequences of this failure are being felt already.
Amid this confusion, an attempt to involve parties that had boycotted the November polls — to give the constitution-making process a bigger ownership — has proved a non-starter. The coalition partners — the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), besides the main opposition Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) — decided to hold a “national assembly” of all parties, including the breakaway Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) and its allies. The CPN-M was not ready for an early meeting, given Koirala’s departure for the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. It has now decided to hold the first meeting on Tuesday, where a consensus is unlikely, as the CPN-M is preparing to demand the scrapping of some hydro power projects and the power trade agreement signed with the Indian government and private companies, as well as the dissolution of the CA as conditions for their participation in the constitution-making process.
An idea the NC and UML are proposing is using their simple majority to have the constitution adopted, if a consensus or a two-thirds majority fails to materialise. “To try to frame a constitution with a simple majority will invite disaster,” Bhattarai warns. Constitutional experts agree. A simple amendment will require at least a two-thirds majority, but a constitution created by a simple majority is not usual democratic practice.
Last week, Speaker Subash Nembang warned tha t if the parties do not reach a consensus, the best way would be to leave it to the House to adopt the constitution, even by a simple majority.
This approach shows the dilution of the parties’ commitment since assuming power in 2006. The parties had then decided they would frame the constitution by consensus. But as differences cropped up, they amended the interim constitution favouring a two-thirds majority, which is now being reduced to a simple majority. This has led to a serious blamegame. “There is a conspiracy to bring the 1991 constitution back,” yelled Prachanda. The 1991 constitution had the provision of constitutional monarchy and a unitary system of governance, besides Hinduism as state religion. He knows that the eight-year-long effort has proved futile. But the major political parties have not yet begun thinking in terms of the consequences of missed deadlines or yet another failure that is staring them in the face.