The Constituent Assembly’s (CA) failure to deliver the constitution by January 22 did not come as a surprise. But the failure this time round has sharply polarised politics. The two major parties in the ruling coalition — the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML — seem determined to deliver the constitution using their two-thirds majority. Equally determined are the two major opposition groups — the UCPN-M, or Maoists, and the Madhesi groups — with a prominent leader, Upendra Yadav, warning of a “civil war” if the constitution is bulldozed through.
As prospects for a compromise appear bleak, the coalition is showing an aggression that also looks like a nervous response to failure. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala reprimanded a group of European ambassadors on Monday for their “undue” interference in Nepal’s internal affairs. The PM’s outburst came in response to their admission that some of them had met C.K. Raut, a pro-secessionist leader. But external involvement in Nepal’s politics is not new. At times Nepal’s politicians themselves have used envoys to settle internal problems.
But as the leaders stand discredited, and there is a growing demand for accountability, especially after missing the deadline, the ambassadors, some say, have now become the target. That has not made the people any more hopeful that their leaders have learnt a lesson. In fact, the polarisation appears much sharper now. The CA chairman announced the formation of a questionnaire committee to identify issues for the House to debate and answer. The Maoists and Madhesi parties refused to participate.
On Wednesday, in a closed-door session of the UNSC, Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs Jens Toyberg-Frandzen emphasised Nepal’s actors should continue the dialogue “in a spirit of flexibility and urgency”. The word “consensus” the international community had been advocating was missing, significantly. However, there are no signs of flexibility in Kathmandu. Indian Ambassador Ranjit Rae had tried to convince leaders of the ruling coalition not to exercise their majority, and instead see if a consensus could still be reached. But he faced an unusual curtness from UML chief K.P. Oli: “How long should we wait in the name of consensus?” Oli did not stop there: “I think politics is best left to us. Let us work together more for improving bilateral relations.” This was perhaps the first time an ambassador faced disapproval from a senior ruling-party leader. However, there are no signs that Nepal’s leaders can escape accountability by just blaming external players.
The only exception is China. Madhesi leader Jitendra Dev, former PM and UML leader Jhalanath Khanal and NC leader Ramesh Lekhak, all praised China for “never interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs”. Chinese Ambassador Wu Chuntai rarely comments on Nepal’s politics or constitution-making. The bigger external stakeholders, including the US, EU and India, are no doubt trying to bring China on board with the rest.
A recent opinion poll conducted by Interdisciplinary Analysts shows an overwhelming majority opposed to secularism and federalism. Pro-monarchy leader Kamal Thapa’s ratings are on the rise, while the popularity of leaders of the major parties, except for K.P. Oli, is on the decline.